Vacuum of Innovation

How simple products are powerful and disruptive

Several years ago, I read a great disruptive innovation case study by Dimitri Tarasowski. The study explains the Atlassian acquisition of Trello, the power of simple products, and filling the vacuum of innovation.

I liked the concept. So I created a presentation about it! And shared it with my teams at work. I even filled an innovation vacuum myself. More on that later.

What is the Vacuum of Innovation?

There are many companies that build fancy products. They build big, complex, full-featured products. They are always building new features to capture new and bigger customers. And bigger customers want bigger, more robust, more advanced products. Eventually, the products grow beyond what users actually want. Users eventually want something smaller, simpler, faster, and easier to use. So users look for alternative products that fill this gap.

This gap is the Vacuum of Innovation.

It is the empty space, created by growing products, that gets filled by simpler products. Innovation through simplification.

Vacuum of Innovation chart from https://www.tarasowski.de/disruptive-innovation-case-study

For example, JIRA (made by Atlassian) is a full-featured task management tool. It is big, complex, robust, and hard to use. Some companies have whole positions, just for JIRA administration. Many users need training. And many JIRA users want something simpler. So they use Trello.

Trello fills the vacuum. Trello’s innovation was a simpler, cheaper, easier-to-use task management tool. No user training required. And this threatened JIRA. So Atlassian acquired Trello for $425 million.

There is always a vacuum

The ultimate irony is that Trello is growing feature-wise, and becoming more complex over time. Now there is a vacuum under Trello! The cycle continues. Users keep asking for more, the product matures, and simpler alternatives fill the vacuum.

Vacuum of Innovation chart from https://www.tarasowski.de/disruptive-innovation-case-study

Examples

You can see the vacuum of innovation often. Here are a few examples. Complex products followed by simpler innovators.

  • Yahoo search to Google
  • Wordpress to Medium
  • Microsoft Access to Airtable
  • Microsoft Word to Google Docs
  • Salesforce to Insightly
  • Cisco WebEx to Whereby
  • Gas motorcycles to electric motorcycles
  • Sony Red camera to Gopro

Video Presentation of Vacuum of Innovation

Here is a 13-minute video explaining the Vacuum of Innovation. It summarizes Dimitri Tarasowski’s original case study, and includes further context and examples.

Vacuum of Innovation Presentation at company “lunch-and-learn”

Do you work in technology? Are you an entrepreneur or innovator? Or a designer, product person, or developer? Do you want to share the vacuum of innovation concept with your team? Do you advocate for simpler solutions? Want to explain the power of disruption via simplification?

I share this concept with you, so you can share it with others!

If you want to give this presentation yourself, see my source presentation slides and full presenting notes on gumroad. Then you can present these materials to your team, or company. Perhaps during a “lunch-and-learn” event. You will sound clever and smart and innovative.

And be sure to read Dimitri Tarasowski’s original case study, which heavily influenced my presentation. He is a knowledge person in the product space. And his concept from a few years ago is equally relevant today!

How I filled the Vacuum of Innovation

Once I worked at a company that made mapping software for Salesforce. The software was big, robust, and complex. It required special training. Users complained that it was hard to use. But they liked the idea of seeing their sales leads and customers on a map.

My vacuum of innovation siren rang. How could we make a simpler map? So we came up with the “minimap”. Later called the Nearby Map. It was a simple map component, that showed limited data, right on a salesforce record page. No need to launch the full mapping product. No training. Just a few relevant dots on the map. Users loved it.

Like the story of Trello, this map company was eventually acquired by Salesforce for $213 million. I like to pretend the “minimap” and vacuum of innovation had a little to do with it 😉

How YOU can fill the Vacuum of Innovation

Take a look at the products you work on. Is there an opportunity to fill the vacuum of innovation? What do you hear from users? Could you simplify the product? Can you make a light version? Can you hide functionality? Can you break the product into modules? Can you build a specific feature as its own product? If you don’t fill the vacuum, who will?

Good luck!

Digital Product Manager. Interested in blockchain, motorbikes, and painting.