Some innovators go to ridiculous lengths to prompt awareness of ways to use their products. Microsoft’s Office software suite had its noxious dancing paper clip-since retired, according to the company’s Web site-which dispensed minimally useful advice whenever it detected a user having difficulties or presumed to know what the user was trying to do. Then again, the world’s most influential software company also created “wizards,” software templates that help users comprehend the process of preparing PowerPoint slides and Excel spreadsheets. Using the wizard function, users can learn on their own.
It is surprising that the marketplace provides so few dynamic software-based tutorials that inspire the inner autodidact. And one might think telephone companies would offer toll-free calls to voice-activated help systems that explain how to get more functionality out of their phones. What about automobile makers? Shouldn’t their high tech dashboards give some clues about how they can be customized? Nope. Just read the manual.
It’s shockingly apparent that too many innovators rely not on better training sessions and documentation to support their users’ learning curves, but only on Web pages that list frequently asked questions. The rise of third-party training consultancies, outsourced help desks and customer support, and rigorously negotiated service-level agreements is evidence of innovators’ intent to dump the costs of teaching and learning on their customers. The economics of innovation adoption are destructively distorted.
This has nothing to do with making innovations easier to use. After all, a bicycle is easy to use; but learning how to ride one isn’t so easy-especially if you’re an adult. Do you want to be taught how? Or do you want to learn how on your own?
Whether they like it or not, all innovators are service businesses. In fact, innovators with truly clever ideas have no choice but to be educators and trainers, either through the medium of their innovations or through the medium of social interaction. They need to recognize that if they really want to overcome customer resistance, they need to marry ease of use with ease of learning. Encouraging users to read the directions just doesn’t cut it. Innovations in learning and teaching will determine which innovations pass the test with customers and which flunk.