Keep it Simple, Not Stupid

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“I have made this letter longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter.’
~ BlaisePascal
“Lettres provinciales”, letter 16, 1657

I’m sure everyone is well-aware by now of the story of why the Apple iPod was such a runaway success. Aside from excellent timing, many would point to the simplicity of the product.  That’s not to say the product was simple-minded (stupid) however. In fact, there was significant innovation that drove the simplicity of the device.  An entirely new suite of music software was launched to support the content and management of the device which enabled the simplicity of the interface. The idea of using software on a master device to configure your subordinate device is relatively novel for the consumer market.  But this change enabled the removal of complication from the device itself.

But it was more than that.  Prior to the iPod, the focus of other MP3 players had been upon the features of the device such as how many megabytes, the screen, etc. These devices were being marketed as commodities when the focus was put upon features.  When the iPod was introduced, the message changed to a simple “1000 songs in your pocket”.  This simple message made the value proposition extremely clear and furthered the perception that the product was simple to use, which was an asset to most people; particularly those who are fearful or annoyed by technical technology.

There is a lot of talk today about Lean development and finding the Minimally Viable Product (MVP), which is perhaps driven partly by observations such as this, as well as an attempt to hedge the risk of the early stage entrepreneur.  But all of this talk of simplifying might be misinterpreted as to do the least possible, which entirely misses the point.  Consider the Mark Train quote above and remember that it is the goal is to create a thoroughly-composed product or solution, not one without innovation or thought. The consequence is to just create a commodity without intrigue.