The current edition of Wired has an interesting article entitled “The Good Enough Revolution”. The article highlights several successful products – from Pure Digital’s Flip Video Camera to the Predator drone aircraft – where the success was due to a “good enough” mindset.
Good Enough centers on accessibility:
“The attributes that now matter most all fall under the rubric of accessibility. Thanks to the speed and connectivity of the digital age, we’ve stopped fussing over pixel counts, sample rates, and feature lists. Instead, we’re now focused on three things: ease of use, continuous availability, and low price. Is it simple to get what we want out of the technology? Is it available everywhere, all the time—or as close to that ideal as possible? And is it so cheap that we don’t have to think about price? Products that benefit from the MP3 effect capitalize on one or more of these qualities. And they’ll happily sacrifice power and features to do so.”
Good Enough takes a unique view of technology:
“Speaking at an Online publishers conference in London last October, New York University new-media studies professor Clay Shirky had a mantra to offer the assembled producers and editors: "Don’t believe the myth of quality." When it comes to the future of media on the Web, Shirky sternly warned, resist the reflex to focus on high production values. "We’re getting to the point where the Internet can support high-quality content, and it’s as if what we’ve had so far has all been nice—a kind of placeholder—but now the professionals are coming," Shirky said. "That’s not true." To reinforce his point, he pointed to the MP3. The music industry initially laughed off the format, he explained, because compared with the CD it sounded terrible. What record labels and retailers failed to recognize was that although MP3 provided relatively low audio quality, it had a number of offsetting positive qualities.
Shirky’s point is crucial. By reducing the size of audio files, MP3s allowed us to get music into our computers—and, more important, onto the Internet—at a manageable size. This in turn let us listen to, manage, and manipulate tracks on our PCs, carry thousands of songs in our pockets, purchase songs from our living rooms, and share tracks with friends and even strangers. And as it turned out, those benefits actually mattered a lot more to music lovers than the single measure of quality we had previously applied to recorded music—fidelity. It wasn’t long before record labels were wringing their hands over declining CD sales.
"There comes a point at which improving upon the thing that was important in the past is a bad move," Shirky said in a recent interview. "It’s actually feeding competitive advantage to outsiders by not recognizing the value of other qualities." In other words, companies that focus on traditional measures of quality—fidelity, resolution, features—can become myopic and fail to address other, now essential attributes like convenience and shareability. And that means someone else can come along and drink their milk shake.
To a degree, the MP3 follows the classic pattern of a disruptive technology, as outlined by Clayton Christensen in his 1997 book The Innovator’s Dilemma. Disruptive technologies, Christensen explains, often enter at the bottom of the market, where they are ignored by established players. These technologies then grow in power and sophistication to the point where they eclipse the old systems.
That is certainly part of what happens with Good Enough tech: MP3s entered at the bottom of the market, were ignored, and then turned the music business upside down. But oddly, audio quality never really readjusted upward. Sure, software engineers have cooked up new encoding algorithms that produce fuller sound without drastically increasing file sizes. And with recent increases in bandwidth and the advent of giant hard drives, it’s now even possible to maintain, share, and carry vast libraries of uncompressed files. But better-sounding options have hardly gained any ground on the lo-fi MP3. The big advance—the one that had all the impact—was the move to easier-to-manage bits. Compared with that, improved sound quality just doesn’t move the needle.”
Good Enough is not crapification:
“To some, it looks like the crapification of everything. But it’s really an improvement. And businesses need to get used to it, because the Good Enough revolution has only just begun.”
Good Enough | Crapification Divide
Undoubtedly, the Good Enough revolution will, if it hasn’t already, make inroads into enterprise and government IT shops. And frankly, the pragmatist in me views this as a positive thing. However, I’ve spent enough time in the real world to know that “good enough” can easily be (mis)interpreted as “slam something in” and result in “crapification”.
So, for me, the real question becomes: how do you straddle the good enough | crapification divide. Top of mind, I’m thinking:
1. Don’t deviate from the “good enough” design points: ease of use, continuous availability, and low price.
2. Understand that the above design points – ease of use, continuous availability and low price – are only possible with significant investment (time, talent) in design.
3. Pick a target audience, use case, scenario and stick to it. Don’t be afraid to be niche or say no. Better to win over a smaller audience than fail a large one.
4. Don’t force fit the use cases and scenarios where “good enough” isn’t good enough.
These are my early thoughts. What points would you add to avoid crapification?