#TBT: The “Great Performance” and the “Better Mousetrap”

Happy #TBT! Here’s an oldie-but-goodie post from Jim: The “Great Performance” and the “Better Mousetrap.”

Photo Credit: “Crowd,” © 2006
Alexandre Macedo, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license.

I’d like to share something that’s been on my mind: the idea that the only thing that’s important is a “great performance.”

Here’s what I have to say about that:

A “great performance” is a necessary but not sufficient condition. It’s more accurate to say that without a great performance, you’ve got nothing and no chance, but saying that all you need is a “great performance” is like saying all you need for life is oxygen. You certainly need it, but that’s far from all you need.

What do you mean, “great performance”? If by “great performance,” you mean something that has intrinsic appeal to purists in classical music, experimental theater, or National League Baseball, I’m not sure I agree with you. “Great performances” are entirely in the mind of the people who matter to the success of your objectives, whoever those people are. Maybe it’s the one fat cat donor who’s going to write the check that floats the organization. Maybe it’s the actual ticket-buying public or the people you’d like to see become your ticket-buying public.

It is almost certainly not YOU.

I say this with affection, but isn’t it possible you just don’t want to change? Summarily stating that it’s all about “great performances” sounds suspiciously like you just want the noisy old world to go away. After all, nothing is preventing you from having “great performances” and doing other things (like good marketing or establishing excellence in the patron experience), too.

This whole line of thought is interestingly familiar because it’s one that infects the high-tech/internet world, too. The hard-to-kill belief in the power of building a better mousetrap has buried more promising businesses than is pleasant to think about.

In fact, there’s a striking similarity between the classical music geeks that seem to espouse this idea and the propeller-head engineer geeks who say the same thing about their own fields.

The “superior product” delusion is the equivalent of the “great performance” delusion, and it’s legendary in the tech business. Many times, a product with objectively superior attributes has lost out to the “inferior” competitor. Every product Microsoft has ever produced has been inferior to its competition on some level, and there are many, many other instances of the “better” product losing.

When it happens, you can be sure that it’s not the market that’s wrong. It’s that you are measuring the wrong thing, asking the wrong question, and calling the wrong thing “great.”

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