How do you know what kind of innovations will succeed and which ones will fail?
This is a question addressed in Stuffocation: Living more with less by James Wallman.
Wallman is a cultural forecaster, and uses five questions to ask whether an innovation is likely to catch on.
1. Is it better?
Is the innovation actually an improvement over what was there before?
For example, was the Walkman let you listen to music on the move. The iPod was a better tool for the same job.
2. Is it simple?
Is it easy to understand the innovation?
Is it clear how you can use it to make things better for you?
3. Is it compatible?
Does the innovation work with the rest of your life?
For example, DVD cases are a different height to CDs cases, typically because the cases used to sit on the same shelf as VHS tapes.
4. Is it easy to use?
Can you actually use the innovation easily.
For example, an electric toothbrush makes the act of brushing much easier. The same goes for washing machines.
5. Is it remarkable?
Is the innovation remarkable in the sense that other people will take note of how it has improved your life?
According to Wallman, if the answer to each of these questions is “yes”, the innovation is more likely to succeed.
There should be a health warning though – there are quite likely to be innovations that were better, simple, compatible, easy and remarkable but they failed to succeed.
This list of criteria could be based on “survivor bias”. We look at things that have succeeded and assume that they have these features in common.
Aiming to create innovations, however, that use this list as a checklist is unlikely to make things worse.
What you also need to succeed is a good dose of luck.