📎 Where's the crutch technology?
I wrote about NFT technology yesterday and didn't want to get too much in the weeds in an already long post. Still, I'd like to point at a key concept that startups and corporate innovators often miss: the crutch technology.
When you're pushing a change in the market, you usually have a lofty ambition and a long-term goal. It might be about affordable renewable energy for everyone, decarbonizing meat production, creating new smart contracts for the digital economy, or that every employee can work remotely for any company. And, of course, because it's an innovation, there's always a level of uncertainty linked to the project. Will the customers we target eventually buy our innovation? Will they even understand what we want to achieve?
In terms of expectations, this seems like jumping from a cliff.
But it rarely is. The reason is that very few innovations (if any) are an entirely new paradigm. If you're addressing a problem to be solved in the market, other actors are already partially solving this problem.
Before Airbnb, there were couch-surfing websites. We have plant-based substitutes before lab-grown beef, or chicken meat is affordable and enjoyable enough for everyone. There's a Google map before having a full mobility-as-a-service platform in your city. Before having full-on immersive VR experiences, we have Fortnite and Zoom.
Are these technologies your dream innovation? No, they aren't; they're a crutch that your potential future market uses as we speak because you haven't delivered your innovation yet.
This frame of mind is key.
It will allow you to see who's for now inadequately doing the job you'd want to do, but that is enabling your future market. You will then know what the core elements of value are already necessary and the ones that are still critically missing in your opinion. And you need to understand both. Because the first ones are the elementary barrier to entry to set foot in the market and the second ones are what will deliver the innovation (or not).
Understanding the notion of crutch technology will allow you to stop saying, "Our innovation has no competitor in the market," which is honestly the most clumsy thing you could say in any case (I'm being polite). It will also allow you to benchmark where you need to be good enough vs. where you need to excel down the road.
Understanding you're never alone when innovating anything is a very pragmatic breakdown of your ambitions in the reality of a messy, noisy, and challenging market.