In 2017, will businesses stick to a comfortable yet costly path… Or make the inconvenient switch to a rewarding one?

Blockbuster innovation fail

Photo credit: Vuja De Studios – Ariel Vergez

It was the winter of 2014 and I was halfway through a date that was going well. But let’s skip to the part where it all started going wrong.

“Wanna go to The Spot?” My date asked. “They play really upbeat blues and the dance floor is just the perfect kind of busy.”

“Sounds like a plan!” I replied, failing to dampen my enthusiasm.

“Cool! Do you know how to get there from here?”

She was referring to the fact that I had picked the dinner place, so she wasn’t familiar with the area. This was a vote of confidence in my abilities, and my confidence was sky high.

“Sure!” I said. “It’s actually not that far from here.”

I didn’t use Google Maps. I didn’t ask for directions. I was willing to trust my judgment as much as she had.

 20 mins into a cold and unpleasant walk, I realised I wasn’t as right about the location of The Spot as I’d thought. She was wearing heels and definitely not enjoying this.

I had a choice. I could’ve admitted I was no longer certain about the path we were on, apologised and asked for directions (from either a human or my smarter-phone).

Or I could’ve continued pretending I knew what I was doing, ignored the fact that my date was unhappy and hoped everything would work out in the end.

My ego meant I chose Arsehole Highway. We were halfway down the road I had chosen – how could I have admitted my incompetence at that point? 40 minutes later, we were finally at The Spot. No one was in the mood for dancing.

We never saw each other again.

But hey, at least I never actually admitted that I realised we were on the wrong path about halfway through the journey.

Kodak chose the wrong path during the digital photography revolution

The moral of this story isn’t that the date ended badly and we never saw each other again – that might have happened anyway.

The moral of the story is that I chose the wrong path and refused to correct that error, even when presented with multiple opportunities to do so.  

I was undermined by the ego I was (ironically) trying to protect.  

Kodak too had to face an inconvenient truth, while it was still dominating the imaging and film cameras market.Kodal Carousel innovation

The future business landscape was unlikely to reward everything that had, until then, made Kodak a giant. At least in terms of products, if not attitude towards innovation.

Digital cameras were coming. Film photography wasn’t yet dying – but it was clear it would soon be.

When Vince Barabba, Kodak’s head of market intelligence, told the company the results of his research into digital photography, executives went into denial.

I can just imagine their thought process.

 We’re already so far down the film route… how can we suddenly admit this might be the wrong path for the future? Especially based on research with some idiot consumers, who don’t understand how business works?

Well, consumers may be idiots, but their actions and decisions (logical or not) determine the success of your business. You better spend time learning about and listening to them.

Kodak didn’t. It stayed in denial. Its core business was obliterated and the company filed for bankruptcy in 2012.

Blockbuster chose the wrong path during the Internet streaming revolution

Next up in my history lesson about screwups is Blockbuster – the company that passed up the chance to buy Netflix for a measly $50 million.

Hindsight is 20/20 and any idiot (especially this one) can post-rationalise on behalf of history. So, it’s not really important that Blockbuster chose not to buy Netflix – more crucial is the company’s reason for making that decision.

John Antioco, then Blockbuster CEO, turned down the offer because Netflix was “a very small niche business.”

Small. Niche. Sound familiar, UX peeps? 

Antioco’s logic isn’t that strange, in a certain context. Again, I can imagine his thought process.

 Blockbuster is huge because of DVD and videocassette rentals – physical, reliable things. How Blockbuster does things has been working. Why the hell should we adapt to some gimmick that hasn’t been widely adopted by our market or competitors?

But waiting till Internet streaming was no longer “a very small niche business” would’ve cost Antioco the edge he was being offered (and it did). It’s no longer a competitive advantage if you wait till everyone else gets a head start before jumping on the bandwagon.

It’s more prescient to ask which force is rising and which one is waning? Which road has a light at the end of the tunnel?

Inevitably, many businesses will choose the wrong path during the user experience revolution

For a year now, I’ve been promoting the value of good UX and educating businesses about its workings.

I’ve interviewed professionals across eCommerce, UX, marketing and several other fields. I’ve read books, attended courses and listened to speakers. I’m unrepentantly into UX – it just makes sense to me.

But I’ve watched businesses fully admit they can see the value of UX, yet completely ignore it.

How? How can they not see what I see?

Then the penny dropped – they’re just like me. And Kodak. And Blockbuster. And everyone else. They have huge, huge egos.

The first battle isn’t with legacy processes, lack of education or anything else. It’s with plain, old ego.  

Business innovation ego

Photo credit: Angel Out Of Control via flickr

Even businesses that know UX makes sense think they can get away with being senseless. Why? Because they believe they’re the exception. They’ll pretend they’re certain of the road they’re on, ignore customer behaviour and hope everything works out in the end.

It’s just easier that way (or so we tend to think).

Individuals within the businesses will continue to carry the weight of unrealistic expectations on their shoulders. Because before you can ask other people for directions, you need to firstly admit that you don’t know certain things. 

 “I was hired as the expert – I’m supposed to know everything! What does it say about me, if I still need to consult users before making every key decision?”

An alarming amount of businesses simply won’t go down this UX path – and that’s OK.

As someone who’s bet on UX, that doesn’t bother me because… well, it doesn’t change the fact that UX is the future of digital business. And facts can be very unforgiving of our feelings and ignorance. 

Let me put it this way, we keep breaking the UK record for the number of new businesses every year  – and more of them are surviving too.

The business landscape has never been more competitive and digital-oriented. Conversely, consumers have never been more capricious – spoiled for choice, they’re always entertaining the siren call of something better.

Do you think it’s more (or less) likely that businesses will increasingly invest in understanding customer behaviour, so they know how to persuade consumers to choose them over competitors?

Do you think if your business fails to do the same, it’s more or less likely to become obsolete?

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Timi is a London-based copywriter and full-time marketing sceptic – there are now more unvalidated opinions out there than ever.

He became a UX testing enthusiast after seeing its power while working at TUI – the world’s largest travel, leisure and tourism company. He then joined WhatUsersDo to sharpen his UX knowledge and work side-by-side with the field’s best and brightest.

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