Ignore the Competition

🧑‍🎨 Creator(s)
🗓️ Publish Date
July 23, 2006
📚 Publisher(s)
🍿 Media Type(s)

🗃️ Archival copy:

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I'm so tired of seeing so many products with the same features that nobody wants. It's bad enough to let feature requests from users get out of control, but when we start adding features just because our competitors have them, we're all screwed.

Why do we do it? My guesses are:

1) The Feature Arms Race. We're afraid of falling behind our competitors.

2) We assume that if one of the leading competitors added something, it's something users will want.

3) We assume that potential users will buy off a checklist, and we don't want to come up short in a side-by-side feature comparison.

4) We have a compulsive need to add, since the idea of an upgrade that subtracts features seems counterintuitive.

5) New features are easier to promote than better/working versions of existing ones. Or so we think...

What would happen if we completely, utterly, totally ignored the competition? What if we stopped thinking about competition at all? Perhaps if we devote all of our attention to users (and our own ability to innovate), we'll stop being dragged off into areas that build our feature list, but often at the expense of users. That development time might be better spent.

It's The Feature Arms Race that leads to so much sameness among products!

It's The Feature Arms Race that leads to the bloody kicking and clawing and fighting for market share. The Feature Arms Race is a form of group think, and we all know that design-by-committee does not produce art. We must wean ourselves off the obsession with the competition. If we're constantly trying to one-up them--or even just stay up with them--how does this really serve the users? How does it help the users kick ass if we're so focused making sure our feature lists kick ass? But it's hard to do.

"What if the competition comes up with something really good? Something users really like? "Then you'll hear about it by staying in close contact with your user community.

"What if potential users do shop off a checklist?"Then we should be educating them. In the absence of a deeper understanding of what's important and what we need and want, we DO often buy off a checklist--it feels like a better value to get more for our money. But of course the question is... more what? Certainly not usability, since the more features we add, the more danger there is of the dreaded featuritis:

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If our only "competitive advantage" is by staying one step ahead of The Feature Arms Race, we're vulnerable. In my domain--technical books--if my co-authors and I had completely given in to The Features Arms Race, we would have focused on making sure OUR Table of Contents had as much (or more) "coverage" of topics as the competing books on that topic. (Initially, that's what our editor was asking for.) But it would have come at the expense of the learner. We knew we couldn't help our learners kick ass unless we stopped trying to "cover" (and remember, what the hell does "cover" mean anyway?) the topics that would look good on a feature (ToC) comparison. Given the success of the books, we're so relieved that we resisted the pull to "compete."

I think in many cases, the more you try to compete, the less competitve you actually are.

Still, as much as I like to think I'm all about ignoring the competition, I feel (and often give in to) that pull every single day. So I'm looking for suggestions, thoughts, ideas about breaking the addiction to The Feature Arms Race.