How the Seven Deadly Sins Drive Innovation

Google is best known for their motto, “don’t be evil,” however most of their success can be attributed to playing off  one of the seven deadly sins of human nature. While this seems a bit abstract at first, ask yourself, “would you feel comfortable letting everyone see what you search for?” 

Google’s mission to index the worlds knowledge is pretty useful however when you think about it, the reason Google is so popular is because humans desire to know as much as they can about life.

Whether it’s getting facts to prove someone wrong in a debate, knowledge to get an A on a paper, trying to find weaknesses in your competitors or even the address of your crush – these are all desires which play to the fact knowledge brings pleasure to humans. Innovation doesn’t just go straight to the mainstream consumers.

Innovation has to progress through “the chasm” – five audiences with unique viewpoints – which must be won over in order to succeed.

At a recent HuffPost Code Meetup, John Pavley, CTO of the Hufington Post, gave a presentation explaining how the one common factor successful startups have in overcoming the chasm is that they appeal to at least one of the seven deadly sins.

The Audiences That Matter Most

Main Demographics The five different audiences technology must cater to are:

  • Innovators:  These are the people who adopt technology as soon as it comes out. They make the trends and are willing to take significant risks in product adoption.
  • Early adopters:  Just like innovators, these people want to be cool and ahead of everyone else, but they aren’t as risk tolerant as innovators.
  • Early majority:  This group is made up of pragmatists who have even less risk tolerance. They are willing to embrace new technology if they feel the benefits serve a valid purpose in their lives.
  • Late majority:   The “conservatives” of the technology industry, these people adopt technologies long after it hits the market. Once it is fully proven.
  • Laggards:  Put simply, this is the crowd of individuals still using Internet Explorer 6 as their main web browser. In most cases you don’t need to worry about these people.

Transitions Between Segments When it comes to innovation, there are a few key transitions to keep in mind:

  1. Innovators to early adopters:  This is where the entrepreneur seeds the market. By getting key players to adopt the technology, firms are able to improve brand visibility
  2. Pragmatists to conservatives:  In this phase the focus is on optimization. By refining your product early on, you can hammer out bugs which would be unacceptable to the general public.
  3. Late majority to laggards:  Keeping a sustainable pace of growth is crucial in this stage as it ensures that you maintain relevance even as time goes on.

Of the previously mentioned stages, 97% of failure in the technology industry occurs between the early adopter and pragmatist phase. Although there are many reasons why a startup can fail, there is a common theme which is shared by the 3% of startups which succeed.

For more information on the chasm, a full discussion can be found in: Crossing the Chasm, 3rd Edition: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers

The Magic Equation

Success for startups can be determined with the following formula:  x^3 (i.e. x cubed or XXX). The three elements are:

  1. Exploit
  2. Excuse
  3. Extend

In English this translates to asking yourself:

  1. Does the startup solve problems?
  2. Does the startup satisfy the desires of users?
  3. Does the startup allow people to make connections with others?

In general, successful technology startups deeply satisfy human desires by using technology to weaken barriers between people. For a startup to be successful, it must walk the fine line of bending taboos without breaking them.

Applications of the formula

You don’t need to look far to find examples of successful startups which bend taboos. Google already was mentioned earlier in this article but below are a few more examples of this concept in practice:

  • Pride:  Facebook – how often do you beef up your news feed after seeing your friend posts cool pictures from their vacation?
  • Gluttony:  Netflix – binge watching all your favorite TV shows and movies
  • Greed:  Gilt – Chances are you don’t need that pair of glittery shoes,but at 50% off, who can resist that deal?
  • Envy:  Pintrest – It isn’t enough to have your friends see your expensive stuff. Now you need to show the photos to the world
  • Sloth:  Seamless – Now you don’t need to head to the grocery store or restaurant to get your meals
  • Wrath:  Reddit – Does this need explaining? Just look at the trolling and flame wars on any hot Reddit thread
  • Vanity:  Apple – Steve Jobs did a great job at making the iPhone a fashion piece

How you can use the formula

  • Test your startup
    • Does your startup appeal to one of the basic human weaknesses?
    • Does your tech enable users feel like they can get away with whatever they do?
  • Cross the chasm – Speak to human weaknesses

Nice guys always finish last

Remember that human nature always rewards nonsense. Although developing an app to help end world hunger might sound like a great idea, such a concept likely isn’t going to last long. On the other hand, developing an app that allows you to fling virtual birds to destroy pigs (Angry Birds) will take off because that’s just something people enjoy.

In general, you aren’t going to change the world by running a for-profit company. Business is all about making a profit and going after what the general public wants. If you want to change the world, you’re better off working with a non-profit.

Even with creative industries such as films, consumers like yourself are being exploited. Hollywood makes films that play to the consumers heart. Films are almost always fabricated around desire. You’ll never see anything from Hollywood built around true reality.

Bonus Examples

To learn about a few more cases of successful companies playing to human weaknesses, read below!

Tesla has taken off because it broke the view that electric cars have to be underpowered and clunky. They also made “being green” fashionable even for sports car lovers.

Microsoft Office has dominated the field of presentations by playing off everyone’s desire to create kick-ass presentations to impress their bosses and get raises. Additionally spell check has allowed people to sound smarter and more professional than they normally would.

The reason private space travel is taking off rather than government funded programs is because people travel for bragging rights. Today going to the Bahamas is accessible to many, but space remains virtually untapped.

Spotify allows consumers to binge on music for a flat fee, however it is crucial to note that the musicians in this case significantly lose out on revenue.  The reason these services have taken off however is because the record labels are still able to capitalize on the services as opposed to piracy.

Violent video games such as Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto are widely popular because they allow people to kill others virtually, doing something which is unspeakable in real life. Additionally Grand Theft Auto allows you to do virtually anything without risking serving a life sentence in prison.

What’sApp managed to reach a successful acquisition by playing off greed. By allowing people to send unlimited text messages for only $1.99 a year, most users didn’t hesitate to use the app.  Additionally by providing users with a standard phone number, the app was able to connect with other phone users regardless of if they had the app or not.

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