Andrew McAfee has some invaluable suggestions for anyone developing a new technology product: design a simple, straightforward product first and add more complex features only after the basic idea has been accepted by your customers.
The Harvard Business School professor’s advice is based on the insight that although people think they like to have a broad range of features to chose from, most of us are in fact happier when our options are limited. Think overloaded news websites which offer so many distractions it is hard to focus on the one thing you are actually interested in.
Geeky product designers who love the “challenge of fitting a lot into a little” have led to a plethora of over-functional gadgets. McAfee’s probably not the only one who would be happy to pay more in order to get less.
Yuping Liu considers what makes online communities grow, and whether users really just follow the crowd. Things are a little more complicated than the old snowball effect would have it, says the marketing professor from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA.
A network whose members have strong connections to each another is much more likely to attract new followers than a network of the same size whose members are only loosely connected, according to a recent study by Zsolt Katona at UC Berkeley’s Haas business school.
The same is true of individuals. Users who have more than a thousand Facebook friends may look like great sources for networking; in fact, however, they “are actually quite weak when it comes to influencing other people’s opinions.” While loose networks of vast amounts of people are great to create awareness of a community, actual participation and active sharing is increased by smaller, closely knit networks of people. Just like in real life.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter ponders the question of change, saying that it feels good when done by us, but horrifying when it happens to us. In the latter case, most people panic, says the Harvard Business School professor. Rather than shrinking from the horror, Kanter suggests “wallowing in the feelings of dread” and dreaming “your worst nightmare.” It may sound counter-intuitive but it’s the first step towards betterment: the only way to get rid of a real threat is to confront it in its entire dreadfulness.
As an example she mentions the case of John Taysom, a London entrepreneur who managed to save Reuters during the first internet boom. Whilst others despaired over threats to the firm’s business model, Taysom looked the beast in the eyes, identified the worst-case scenario, and took steps to prevent it by “befriending the enemies before they destroyed us.”
He moved to Silicon Valley and led one of the first investments in Yahoo when its founders were still in Stanford dorms: a deal that won Reuters a seat on the board of one of the world’s most powerful internet companies and undisclosed millions when the stake was finally sold.