“Feature creep.” It is not the baby-gap-shirt-size/aviator-sunglasses-on-at-5:30-p.m-guy-looking for the $4 burger and fry feature at the bar. It is the cell phone that has an app that will mail order Blue-footed Booby birds to your grandmother’s Dubuque townhouse with the touch of a button, but cannot seem to make a clear phone call. It’s the set of $4,000 rims you just bought for your rusted 1969 Dodge Charger (no offense Joe Dirt) that sits in your parent’s driveway because you have no money for gas. It is the friend who you asked to pick up a cheap pizza to share and he walks in with $44 of You-Pick-Two’s from Applebee’s: “here is your half…that will be 22 bucks.” It is the new car that is loaded with Bing, Pandora, automatic foot massager, and 14 section climate control so that your wife’s cervical C7 vertebrae will be the perfect temperature at all time, but the car loses $20,000 of its total value in five years because of it lack of reliability. These features may be blatant, but they are not always that easy to identify.
So many companies produce products and services that are either “me too” or “just add this.” “Me too” products are often knee jerk reactions to the current successes of competitors. It is the kid who doesn’t get picked in the baseball game so he goes out and buys a pair of P.F. Flyers so he can fit in. He shows up the next day, “sweet shoes man,” gets picked last, strikes out every at bat, and nobody ever chooses him again. These products may produce short-term sizzle, but rarely deliver long-term value. “Just add this” products are equally as dangerous. If we can just add this feature to our product, customers will be sure to buy it. Before you know it you have fallen victim to “feature creep.” When you lose sight of the core value you can deliver to customers, you often begin to misdiagnose their needs, and you will eventually lose them.
Some of the greatest companies (and leaders) in the world have the ability to create a stop-do list. Even though something may be “good,” it doesn’t mean it is worth pursuing (Google: Kohler Numi Toilet: Nothing says “I’ve officially made it” like having a toilet in the middle of your San Francisco living room). Take that a step further. Some of the best companies in the world innovate by subtraction. Take The Apple (all hail) for instance. It would have likely been “easy” for Apple to come up with a Desktop computer that offered 3d graphics and an Intel Core 19 processor capable of making 4 million cell VBA models in .02 seconds. Rather than simply adding needless features to their existing product, they subtracted. Gone with the keyboard and mouse…in with the Ipad.
In business (and I would argue in life), more does not always mean better. Better is often less. Operating in the mindset of “me too” or “just add this” often feels like success because you are busy and moving, but movement isn’t always success; movement can also simply be distraction. Rarely does losing something ever feel like forward progress, but it often is. Innovation is about providing meaningful new value. Are you innovating or taking a seat next to the “feature creeps?”