Vitamins vs Painkillers. And the winner is…

“Customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them” – Steve Jobs #MondayMorningWakeUpCall

Vitamins vs Painkillers

Whichever is solving a problem! It’s the one common aspect to all successful innovations. That may seem obvious, but understanding the kind of problem a new product solves can be a topic of much debate. As ignorant investors like to put it, “are you building a vitamin or a painkiller?”

The tricky part is that some of the problems may be latent to the customer. After all humans are awfully adept at adapting to circumstances. And when a new innovation significantly improves our lives we adapt to the new one (albeit post some prodding and nudging).

We were happy with lanterns… till the electric bulb came along

We were happy with horses…till cars came along

We were happy with radio…till television came along

We were happy with landlines…till mobile phones came along

We were happy with Blackberry…till iPhone came along

We were happy with shopping at the mall…till e-commerce came along

We were happy without social media… till Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat came along

On hindsight, some of these could be defined as painkillers, some as vitamins (nice-to-have). All of them did distinctly make life better (or did they J) in tangible ways. But like so many innovations, we did not know we needed them until they became a part of our everyday lives.

According to Nir Eyal, author of Hooked, habit forming products often start as (nice-to-have) vitamins, but once the habit is formed, they become must-haves (painkillers). That is, once we depend on the tool, nothing else will do.

Note: Not every business requires habitual user engagement. But if forming habits is a critical component to the success of your business, then what do you do? (More on that in a subsequent post)

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