Schools of Thought

Over the last couple of weeks I have looked at a lot of various aspects of 3D printing.  I’m bothered by the newness of the technology and the business opportunities that have been unleashed.  I’m not talking about the potential disruptions that I mentioned two weeks ago, but of finding a product that is scalable past the early adopters.  I’m also concerned about finding a product that doesn’t kill you in development and sample costs to get in front of early adopters so that you can scale.  The internal debate stems from two schools of thought: Henry Ford and Eric Ries.  Now, there are other people in this passion play that have the same thoughts, but for me the two ideas are embodied by them.  The differences lie in their opinion on how to engage the customer and develop your product.  I lean towards Eric Ries’ position, but I can see Henry Ford’s point.

Henry Ford said, “if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”  He then offered his famous Model T in any color the customer wanted, as long as that color was black.  Ford fell in the camp that understands that customers might not even understand the paradigm shift that comes from new products and designs.  For them, a riff on or an evolution of an existing product defines the next product they want.  If you develop to the customer, you could miss major opportunities and move down product development paths that are essentially dead ends.

Eric Ries takes the opposite approach and demands that you get in front of the customer as soon as possible in order to find the product they want and jettison parts of the product that they don’t require.  The point being for a startup is that you could spend days, months, years creating a product and all of the features that you believe that a customer wants, and when you get it in front of a customer they use it in a different manner or dislike many of your major product points.  Get a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) in front of customers and see what they think and want.  They will help you short circuit the development cycle to move past early adopters and to a scalable product.

I see the value in both positions.  For Ford, the customer cannot even envision the changes you are trying to make.  The cost of the product or even the concept of the product immediately set them off before the customer even got a chance to explore the product itself.  Ries gets the customer involved but you run the risk of managing to an evolutionary process as opposed to introducing a radical new product.  That said, I lean towards Ries for a couple of reasons:

 Ford says these things about a product that had already been through product design and development: he made it affordable and purchasable by scaling it.

  • Customer feedback can be gathered much quicker now.
  • Rapid Prototyping allows design to be tweaked and tested.
  • The market place has expanded due to the internet and allows you to reach a wider range of early adopters
  • Modern technology such as 3D Printing and physical photography means that new custom items tailored specifically to a single customer can be a viable product without tons of labor hours from an artisan

So, if I see so much value in Ries’ position, why the internal debate?  Well, Ford has a point.  If you are always focused on listening to the consumer, are you just fiddling with the established as opposed to creating radical change?  I’m going to side with Ries and then constantly challenge myself to look for the radical.  Maybe later I’ll be able to outline our model of success.