Steven Sinofsky on Disruption

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Steven Sinofsky at D11 1 on product disruption and what can be done to ease its effect on the user:

Any time you change a product you introduce that challenge. If you have any install base at all. And that is one of the biggest things that really makes disruption sort of a challenge. If you have no market, no customers then you're not disrupting any body but all the other companies. And if you have a product with customers and you introduce something that's not exactly the same as the old one, by definition you're going to disrupt them. And that's a balance that you face in anything you do. Whether you're making a sequel to a Star Trek movie. Or anything. And, so, can you always do more? Well, after the product comes out, if it turns out that it was easier or harder, then you can do more or less and change it and you just adapt. And that's part of what it means to do this. There's no magic answer. But you can't sort of A/B test your way to it. Because a billion people don't get your product until a billion people have your product. 

Tim Cook loved to say you make a set of choices and people are sort of paying you to make those choices. You use your product development intuition to do things. Cause when you test a product, any product, not Windows 8, any product before it's in market, the people who naturally go to use it will use it and push it the way that they push the old one. Eric Ries talks about this in The Lean Startup. You come out with a brand new product and you let some enthusiasts use it and then you just have to break from them and re-do it. Those first hundred people are very upset. But you want a million people. Not a hundred. And to get a million you're going to do something different than that first hundred. And so all the pre-release testing in the world doesn't necessarily help a product that's going in a different direction because the people that are just there are the experts and enthusiasts that like the old direction. That's why they signed to the pre-release.

Windows 8 was disruptive. I get why. Microsoft's mistake wasn't that it was, but that they didn't make a concerted effort to mask its disruptive qualities. Yes, it is a new era for Microsoft. But, it was naive to expect a billion users to sign up, let alone be ready, for change of this magnitude. They were not prepared for the future. Especially not a future that wasn't even feature-complete. However, whereas Windows 8 made no tangible concessions to facilitate the transition, Windows 8.1 does the opposite. And that's not a bad thing. Those billion users will be given the tools, and more importantly the time, to familiarise themselves with the future without needing to commit to it. And once the future becomes the present, whether that's Windows 9 or 10, users won't be blindsided. And there lies the answer. To successfully 2 release a disruptive product update, unless it is objectively and immediately better than its incumbent, the execution of its vision needs to be gently spread across a number of releases. With each iteration boasting more of the future and less of the past. Eventually, a release will be stripped entirely of its legacy. And the best part is, when this happens, users 3 won't even notice.

1. If you've not watched the entire interview, then I recommend you do.

2. Keep in mind, success can be considered in any number of ways. Such as, if you lose only a small sub-set of users. Or if you win more new users than lose old ones.

3. There will be users who are adept at detecting early the implications of the changes. Some of whom will jump ship immediately, whereas others will use a wait-and-see approach. That is, executing your vision periodically, as opposed to suddenly, doesn't necessarily mean you won't lose any users - you will but on a smaller scale and at a slower rate. Losses that won't hurt as much. And, anyway, let's not forget you can always be replacing lost users with new users.