When less is more

By: Steve Little, Principal, The Disruption Lab

“It’s natural to associate these game-changing gadgets with a massive technical leap forward, but the Walkman is unique in that it was created by actually removing features from an existing product.” (https://www.cnet.com/news/the-surprising-story-of-sonys-first-walkman/)


The Sony Walkman created a market and defined an industry…personal, private, portable listening devices. What’s interesting about this disruptive innovation is that it involved no new technology; in fact, the technology was nearly two decades old. Also interesting is that the Walkman was born out of removing features from an existing product. In this case, less was more. What was the secret for Sony? Sony identified a job consumers wanted done that was not being done well by existing products and services.

While the medium has changed over the years (cassette tape to CD to DVD to electronic storage to streaming), personal devices for media consumption continue to grow in popularity. Where do you consume most of your media today? It’s likely that among the top three devices would be your smart phone. Remember the Apple iPod, predecessor to the iPhone?

The iPod was not the first MP3 player on the market. The iPhone was not the first smartphone. But in both cases, Apple defined the market. I would argue that the iPod was a disruptive innovation. I would argue that the iPhone was a disruptive innovation. But where’s the innovation between 2007 and 2019? It’s interesting to note that the original price when launched of both the iPod and iPhone was $399. The base price of the iPhone Xs today is $999. Has significant innovation gone into the iPhone over the years? Certainly! But I suggest that it has been sustaining not disruptive innovation. The iPhone has gone the way of most products and services. Over time, we add more features and charge more money. Think of any industry, hasn’t this been the typical path for a successful product? Today, headlines are replete with iPhone sales declining, increasing price resistance, and entry of more competitive products. Is the smartphone market ripe for disruption? I say, “yes!”

Someone is going to discover the job to be done that is currently not being done well by smartphones today. In that discovery, if they develop a solution that is simpler, more accessible, and more affordable, they are likely to disrupt the industry. Perhaps that solution will demonstrate that “less is more.”

What about your industry? Are there jobs to be done that current products and services are not doing well? Discover that, and you’re one step closer to inventing the future.

Steve is a Principal of The Disruption Lab. Prior to joining The Disruption Lab, Steve served as the Principal Consultant for the Strategic Solutions Group at InfoWorks, a regional business and technology consulting firm based in Nashville, TN. While his consulting engagements at InfoWorks spanned several industries, the majority of his work was in healthcare.​

Much of Steve’s career has been in executive leadership roles at Ingram Content Group (formerly Ingram Book Group). Over his 15 years with Ingram, Steve was part of a high performance executive team that drove significant growth in revenue and profits through innovative customer partnerships and services. Steve’s leadership was characterized by adeptly leveraging technology and building responsive organizations through organizational design and development. Steve’s business experience ranges from technical responsibilities such as operations research, business analysis, and systems development to senior management responsibilities as CEO, Chairman, and board director.​​

You can connect with or ask Steve a question through The Disruption Lab community at https://thedisruptionlab.community/.


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