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« The most important question | Main | Framers and polishers »

Emotionally obsolete

Innovations often succeed by creating obsolence.

There's functional obsolence which is powerful but rare. If I own a word processor so I can create documents and edit them with others, a new version of the software (with a new file format) makes my software obsolete. When my colleagues send over a document, I have no choice but to upgrade.

Functional obsolescence is almost always caused by interactivity--when files or cables or parts or languages don't connect any longer, they become obsolete.

Far more common is emotional obsolescence. The rage you feel when an improved laptop is announced a week after you bought a new one is an example of this. Your old laptop does everything it used to do, of course, but one reason you bought it was to have the 'best laptop' and the launch of a newer model undoes that for you.

Modern architecture has made many existing office buildings emotionally obsolete, because they are no longer the trophies they used to be. A newfangled digital device for audiophiles doesn't do anything to make old CD players functionally obsolete, but it certainly can shatter the illusion of sound perfection that a stereo lover who doesn't own one may be experiencing.

Start by realizing that most people who buy a new innovation are not brand new to the market. They buy the new thing as a step up from an old thing. Most hockey equipment is sold to people who already play hockey.

It's tempting to argue, logically and step by step, why your new product or service is better than the one that's already on the market. It's far more likely, though, that your story will resonate most with people who aren't seeking functionality but instead were happy with the thing they had, but now, thanks to you, believe it has become obsolete. Our neophilia is a powerful desire, and buyer's remorse is its flipside.

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