Mark Twain remarked that history doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme.  In an example of reaching back in history to remind innovators and entrepreneurs of good thinking that many seemed to have missed, I'm focusing on a great book from years past called Crossing the Chasm. This book, which introduces the idea of the "whole product," will help companies building new products and services create solutions that customers actually want, rather than technologies that are quickly adopted but never scale.

Yes, it is old

One of the first complaints I often receive when I teach this concept is that "whole product" thinking is old.  Yes, it is.  So is gravity, but it seems to be working quite nicely, thank you.  While Crossing the Chasm was written over 25 years ago, the central points remain relevant.  Building solutions based on a 'whole product' mentality solve customer needs more effectively, and allow you to address a larger market.  Let's use Tesla as an example.

Tesla's cars are amazing works of art, stylish and powerful.  But they aren't "whole products" because to actually use a Tesla you need maps, insurance, a driver's license and, most importantly, charging stations.  While you need all of these things to have a successful commute, Tesla's adoption (and electronic vehicles in general) was delayed because so few charging stations were available.  If you don't believe this, then go back and look at California law.

In 1990, California passed a law that required that at least 2 percent of the cars sold in the state was zero emission.  Zero emission cars didn't reach that sales milestone until mid-2000, not because the electric vehicles didn't work, but because while there were gasoline stations on every corner, finding a recharging stations was nearly impossible, and when you did find one it took hours to recharge.  Today the percentage of zero emissions cars sold in California remains stuck around 3 percent of total sales.  This technology remains trapped in the early adopter segment.  This is a classic "whole product" problem.

What does it take to benefit from your solution

Your product may cure cancer, provide frictionless travel, and perfect the perpetual motion machine. But, if it lacks whole product features and characteristics, the product will not be adopted by the early majority--the most important market sector.  The question you must ask yourself is not "what can a customer do with my technology" but instead "what does it take to benefit from my solution"? 

If you fail to think about and build a whole product or fail to encourage partners to extend your technology and create a whole product, you'll be lucky to address more than 10 to 15 percent of your potential market.  Early adopters are valuable, but early majority customers are where the real money and opportunity resides.  Be sure to solve for the early majority by thinking about the whole product requirements, and either building them yourself or encouraging complementary solutions.

Published on: May 10, 2018
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