No, a built-in Easy-Bake Oven isn't in one of Tesla's latest feature sets. But Tesla does manage to have its cake and eat it too by baking a crucial lesson from Betty Crocker into its development strategy for market adoption that most innovators and entrepreneurs overlook.
Back in the 1940s, Betty Crocker was doing what others had yet to do: revolutionizing the process of cooking and baking. In addition to its simple soup mix, the brand developed a one-ingredient cake mix. The simple "just add water" mix managed to quickly and easily produce what many would consider the perfect homemade cake. And yet, when the product hit the shelves, it was met with much skepticism. So much so that no one was buying it.
The concept of adding only water didn't sit well with consumers -- not because it didn't work, but because the idea that they had to do so little didn't work for them. Psychologically, the concept was too foreign, making the idea of a water-only cake mix sound like something of a lab-made Franken-cake. Even if it produced great results, the extremely simplistic nature of it made it so it no longer felt homemade.
With little to no product adoption despite market demand, Betty Crocker did something innovators rarely do: They innovated less and developed the same exact end product -- the perfect cake -- but this time with water, oil, and egg. Consumers ate up the revised formula, turning it into a highly successful product, even decades later.
Fast-forward to 2008, when Tesla put electric vehicles (EVs) on the map and made the concept more attractive to the general public than ever before. When other brands were manufacturing EVs to look out of this world (appealing to only a select few), Tesla developed models that resembled highly modern yet planet-appropriate vehicles.
Instead of focusing on designing a space-age vehicle that stands out in the EV space, Tesla designed an EV that could compete against traditional, fossil-fuel-powered cars. It didn't seek to create a new market the way many former EVs had tried, but it sought to carve out a piece of the existing market by giving consumers what they had come to expect and want out of a vehicle -- such as speed, acceleration, and control -- without dependence on fossil fuels.
To appeal to the masses and acquire mass-market adoption, innovative businesses need to package incredible things in a familiar way. Going too far off the rails in terms of innovation and design may make a product incredibly interesting, but it doesn't necessarily equate to much more than a fleeting desire in customers, and beyond general intrigue, it's often met with hesitancy, distrust, and disinterest. People tend to enjoy speculating about anomalies, but when the initial amusement wears thin and our curiosity plateaus, interest often fades.
So while in terms of product innovation, the cake mix never needed oil and egg, psychologically, consumers did. And though this was likely met with much disappointment by those who developed it, the extent of innovation needed to be reeled back in order to be widely accepted.
Many of the most innovative products flow in and out of the market, but the most brilliant products aren't designed to be so extraordinary that they feel foreign to consumers. They are those that are so extraordinary that they manage to make the unknown feel familiar.
Market adoption requires a degree of familiarity, or a great deal of marketing and advertising to build familiarity -- something many startups don't have sufficient resources for. As much as people are attracted to the latest and greatest, we're wired to more easily adopt things that are familiar or known to us.
Of course, the brilliance of innovators, engineers, and entrepreneurs is that they see things quite differently from the average person. The vision that allows them to innovate is the same thing that can lead many to overlook how the average person will view and adopt their creations. Innovators see things differently, and so they're prone to lacking the understanding of how to develop products that connect with consumers.
The genius in innovation isn't simply in developing something that's never been done before, but in doing what has yet to be done in a way that feels almost commonplace to consumers. The most successful businesses, from Betty Crocker to Tesla, manage to not only do what hasn't been done -- they also avoid burning their innovations and land more sales by baking in familiarity.