I passed by a design studio last week that had jack-o-lanterns on the stoop. I like that an office of designers would spend time designing pumpkins. It struck me that jack-o-lantern carving could be a good metaphor for innovation.
If we carved jack-o-lanterns the way we design products, we would probably carve by committee. And, whenever something is designed by committee, it’s in danger of “Feature Creep.”
With “Feature Creep”, the idea gains extraneous features until the project loses focus and momentum. It becomes a peace treaty. By trying to appeal to everyone, it misses what it set out to do. A series of bad compromises can strip away what was remarkable about the original idea.
In a way, “Feature Creep” is closely related to “A Death by a Thousand Cuts”. But instead of cuts, the idea becomes more and more bloated.
So much of the art of innovation relates to the ability to hold true and defend the original idea. Through all of the twists and turns in product development, the successful innovations are the ones that can shield against the cuts and resist the temptations of creep.
That’s not to say that ideas should be developed in silos. Ideas should be made stronger by the diversity of thought that goes into it. But, it’s an essential skill to pick and choose which direction to incorporate, which to ignore, and which to delay until later.
Here’s another cartoon I drew on “Feature Creep” a few years ago.