Sunday, February 15, 2015

Innovator's Dilemma, 1972 Style

I was reading an article in the November 1972 Harper's Magazine and came upon this advertisement for a Hermes typewriter.  It reads like an early recipe for Clayton Christensen's Innovator's Dilemma, a book not due out for another 25 years.

"We've always made big, fancy-featured" typewriters, the ad says.  "Then we realized. . .the secretaries hardly ever used the fancy frills we put on the machines.  And what they really needed was a typewriter that could do all the basic things well. . .Best of all, the clever Swiss engineering that makes our typewriters just half the size of the usual office clunkers, also makes it about half the price."

Hallelujah.  Here was a company that 1) recognized, in its rush to improve, that it had built in useless and extraneous functions, 2) was paying close attention to how its customers were using its product, and 3) innovated by reducing features, size, complexity and cost--while improving quality.  The ad also implied that a single product now appealed to two markets, which must have made sourcing and manufacturing happy. 

If I could, I'd send this ad to everyone whose software I've ever purchased.  All of my app makers.  All the people who "improve my onscreen experience" and "update my app"  and "streamline my custom website" without asking me first.  I'd send it to all of the folks who think that adding sunglasses to emojis in a "must-have update" constitutes progress.   And, of course, I'd send this ad to Quicken, whose 2004 upgrade was perfect, and the last one I ever really needed to be happy.  

All of which makes me pine sometimes for the good old days, the days when a quality typewriter brand could write, "If you only want to buy a typewriter once, buy a Hermes."  Like I said, Hallelujah!