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Embrace, Extend, Extinguish

Nobody uses horses to get around anymore. Nobody writes on papyrus scrolls anymore. Nobody writes or talks in Shakespearean English anymore. Horses as a mode of transportation, papyrus as a tool for capturing and preserving text, Shakespearean English as a mode of communication, have all been extinguished.

Working in the product industry and in the creative industries of writing and stand-up comedy is all about introducing new ideas to the audience. But every new idea has a singular path to success, that can be summed up in three words - Embrace, Extend, Extinguish.

Any new idea will first go through the 'Embrace' test. And it passes if the answer is yes to the question - Is it embracing a solution that already exists in the lives of the audience? This is not a sufficient ingredient for becoming a success, but it is a necessary ingredient without which there will be no success.

Digital cameras embraced the solution that existed before - they enabled people to take pictures. A phone with a drive that can store a thousand pictures doesn't stand a chance in competing with the camera if it cannot take pictures. A car stands no chance of beating the horse if it fails to take people from one place to another. But just doing so, won't guarantee success. If a car is too expensive or too unreliable or too slow, then people will vote with their money for horses and the car will fail to take off.

If a novel fails to entertain or if a standup act fails to evoke laughter, it fails to embrace what the existing novels and standup acts can do - and which is the core need that it solves for the audience. It is still not sufficient because there can be others that relate to the audience a lot more, have better timing and delivery, and so on.

Once an idea manages to embrace an existing alternate solution, once it passes the 'Embrace' test, the next test is to 'Extend'. In order to pass this, it needs to answer yes to the question - Is it extending a solution that already exists in the lives of the audience to deliver more on the core need? And this, is a sufficient condition for achieving success.

If all digital cameras could do was take a limited number of photographs like the cameras that used reel, they wouldn't have succeeded. But they managed to increase the number of pictures one could take by several orders of magnitude, they made it easier for people to share the photos they had taken, and when integrated with smartphones, they made it redundant for people to carry one additional device for taking pictures. They embraced the delivery on the core need (taking pictures) when compared to cameras before them and they extended that to enhance the delivery on the core need.

Once an idea manages to extend an existing alternative, then it is guaranteed to achieve success. But not that it needs to extend delivery on the core need. A reel camera which doubles as a TV remote control extends its functionality, but doesn't extend delivery on the core need, so will not be guaranteed success.

The final test is a test of dominance, 'Extinguish'. In order to pass this, it needs to answer yes to the question - Is it extinguishing the alternate solution that exists today? This will lead to something beyond success - a paradigm shift. Like the examples I started the article with.

Often, it takes decades to pass this test - like it happened with cars vs horses and books vs scrolls. But it can happen a lot quicker too. Like email replacing snail mail or search engines replacing encyclopaedia or mobile phones replacing landlines.

In order to pass this test, an idea has to extend delivery on the core need by orders of magnitude.

If you have an idea, put it through this test as a thought exercise - What does it embrace? What does it extend? And if you don't have satisfactory answers to both, go back to the drawing board.

Don't concern yourself with the question - What does it extinguish? - at this stage, as that is not required for success, but only for paradigm shifts, which more often than not, happen as a consequence than as the result of a well-engineered plan.

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