November  2006     Edition 19
The Better MouseTrap

You know the old saying

, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door”.

But when is 20% not good enough?

Usually if you can deliver the service or product 20% cheaper, or 20% faster, or with 20% more functionality, then you’ve got a really good candidate for the “better mousetrap”. But every once in awhile, a better mousetrap isn’t enough.
33 & 45 RPM Records, 8 Track, Cassette, VHS, CD’s, DVD’s

Take a look at recorded music and video

. Within each generation there were better mousetraps, easier to use, and less expensive. Then a new device was created that completely eliminated the prior generation. The slide rule got better, cheaper, nearly indestructible, until the calculator eliminated it in 3½ years time. For 100 years, film cameras got incrementally better, cheaper, easier to use, then entered the digital camera. Now it’s hard to find a film camera in the stores.

Gee I wish I had an iPod!

A couple of observations about a new generation. On average, no one is out there asking for it. The general population may have been asking for lower cost portable CD players, but few stood up and said, “Gee, I wish I had an iPod!”. Or “Gee I wish I had a digital camera”. While customers can give you great insights as to what should go into a better mousetrap, few will give you the guidance for the next generation.

It cost more

. While better mousetraps usually cost less, next generation solutions almost always initially cost more.
Next Generations are coming faster. Probably the most important observation. The adoption curve is compressing. Compare how long vinyl records were around and how long it took before they disappeared in favor of tape and CD’s, vs. how fast you think portable CD players will disappear due to the iPod and other MP3 players. Mobile DVD players are only a few years old … how long do you think they will last as 2007 brings in all the new video iPod type devices? The adoption curve is compressing. Humans continue to adapt, faster and faster, to transitions in new technologies.

The Takeaway.
Spend a few hours to review your industry and company. What would classify as a better mousetrap verses next generation? Do you have knowledge as to what next generation solutions your competitors might be working on? Have you embraced fast transitions into your culture and product strategy? How do you “invest” in the next generation wisely so you’re in the game when it happens, but not broke when you get there? If you’re a fast follower, how fast a follower must you be to keep up with an ever increasing faster adoption rate?

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