Saturday, April 27, 2013

We’ve witnessed a lot of products in our lifetimes. Some have faded away without even realizing it. Products like fax machines, AOL, desktop computers, atlases, home telephones. Sure, some of us still use these but they’ve all been replaced with better alternatives.

The best companies and people are capable of predicting when these shifts happen — some even have the capacity to obsolesce their own products. They understand if they don’t, someone else will. It takes creativity to look at what we consider state-of-the-art and question its future position in the world.

Take any product and ask yourself, “what would the world be like if this product was replaced by something better?” Here’s an easy example: the laptop. The laptop singlehandedly crushed the desktop computer — who uses a desktop computer? The laptop clearly won, and for very obvious reasons. Now lets imagine it’s 2020 and the laptop is dead — no one needs them anymore — everyone is using tablets! iPads are already demonstrating an efficiency at general tasks people once performed on their laptop so this sounds like an easy bet.

Here’s where the thought experiment gets challenging. We now have to ask ourselves, “how did this transition fully materialize?” Today tablets get you about 80% of the way with most tasks. How did the 20% make itself accessible to this form? It’s probably safe to say the remaining tasks are a rats nest of edge-cases, situations that span a multitude of professions. However, there is one very important task which can’t go unnoticed: application development. You can’t have a world without laptops if you depend on them for driving the development of new software on tablets. Following this logic further, you can’t have this world without advancing the process of programming, without breaking new ground in how we build software. If you want to live in a world where laptops are truly unnecessary then you have to create an environment in which your product lacks any dependancies on its predecessor. It must offer a better and more compelling experience than any pervious offering.

We could probably spend hours pondering a transition like the one above or we could plan for it. What products do you depend on today? When and how will they become obsolete? Will what you’re working on be a contributing factor in their demise? Are you willing to usher in these transitions?