In a world full of answers you start your journey by asking the right questions
Contrary to the much of the ‘pulp fauxion’ that comes out of America’s leading business schools I have always thought the real secret to America’s innovation engine is its mediocrity… and by mediocre I mean America’s unique ability to discover the middling position in the market. Which, as we all know, on a bell curve distribution is by far the best place to be if you are in the business of securing the biggest market share.
So while Italians built Lamborghini’s, Bugatti’s and Ferrari’s America built Ford’s, GM’s and Chryslers. So while the Italian’s designed cars everyone wanted to drive the American’s built cars everyone could afford to drive.
And don’t discount the net benefit across the whole value chain of investing in mediocrity. Whole industries, or what we would describe today as eco-systems, have evolved to build, sell, service and support these American Automotive Innovations. Why? Because unlike the Italian cars they were very easy to build, sell, service and support.
The same goes for Disney and the mouse, McDonald’s and the Burger, Coke and the Cola, Kentucky and the Chicken, Pizza and the Hut. None of these products would ever be described as the world’s best and yet the world buys them in excess. They are in a word: Mediocre.
So the only genius factor in American Innovation is its ability to consistently ”design its products for dummies”.
The same rules apply to Silicon Valley. Being disruptive in Silicon Valley isn’t so much about being better. Far from it. It is about being more mediocre.
For example, Windows became the world’s most popular PC OS not because it was the best. Far from it. It became the world’s leading OS because it was the most mediocre choice on the market at that time (Think of the competitors in Apple, IBM’s OS2, DOS and Unix).
The same goes for the Web. HTML and all its variants is fundamentally mediocre. It was designed so that any “Idiot” could open up notepad and create a web page… and surprise, surprise millions have. Even if they did need a lot of help from WYSIWYG HTML editors to get there. Likewise the web browser – be it Netscape, IE, Safari or Chrome - is a mediocre technology. So the reason the web has become so popular isn’t because it is the best solution to the problem it is because it is – like much that is great about American Innovation – the easiest or simplest solution to the problem.
Put simply what makes American Innovation great isn’t about being the best in the world. It is about being the simplest and easiest in the world.
Google isn’t a great search engine but it is the easiest to use. What is the mass appeal of the iPhone? Ease of use.
America excels at delivering mediocrity. Why? because the 20th Century has proven that is what sells. Mediocrity represents the path of least resistance in securing market leadership in a mass market.
So what does this tell us about the MobCon moving forward?
Well with the scheduled demise of Symbian we are now left with three Mobile OS vying for long term market leadership (Think Apple, Android and Windows). Of those three Windows is clearly the most mediocre choice but is the choice of mOS really the right question?
The choice of OS on the PC was render largely irrelevant by the arrival of the Web Browser (Think Surrogate OS). For most people the links and icons on their browser’s home page is more important than the icons sitting on their desktop. This suggests that the same thing will happen with the mobile phone and the mobile web browser will become increasingly more important than the mOS.
I say this because the Mobile Web is a far more mediocre development platform than the Mobile Apps Platforms of Apple, Android or Windows. The explosion in web sites during the late 1990′s came about simply because it was a lot easier to build a web site in HTML and ASP than what it was to program a Windows Desktop App. Just as it was much easier to build a Windows App than a Dos or an OS2 App at the beginning of the decade.
Today it is a lot easier to build Android and Apple Apps than what it is to build Symbian and Java Apps. Hence the recent demise of Symbian as a Mobile OS and the explosion in Apple and Android Apps.
Moving forward it is self-evident that it will be a lot easier to build mobile web sites than to build mobile apps across multiple mOS platforms. Therefore applying the rule of “mediocrity in innovation” the Mobile Web should easily win the Mobile Desktop Wars.
The alternative of course is Facebook. If Facebook proves to be a more mediocre mobile development platform than the mobile web browser then Facebook will win the day.
Put simply, if it is significantly easier for everyone to build their mobile presence on Facebook than it is to build it on a Mobile App Platform or on the Mobile Web then the rule of “mediocrity in innovation” suggests that it will be Facebook that will emerge to dominate the Mobile Devices Platform. Be it Smart Phones, Tablets or iPads.