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Innovation Requires The Ability To Embrace Feature Creep

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We have all been there -- a task or project needs to be completed, by a certain date or within a certain budget. So our habit is typically to lay down a project plan of some sort, and do everything in our powers to "stick" to that plan come hell or high water. By virtue of that stubborn, stay-with-it paradigm, we can try to predict the completion time and cost for the project. The downside of this though, is that we don't always get the best or most innovative solution. Many times we end up shipping a me-too or a just-okay version of what end users would look at and say "hmm, it's fine I guess, but...". So how do we allow innovation to keep one foot in the design? Look to the dreaded feature creep for the answer.

Feature creep is a design buzz word, which in basic terms is what happens as a design starts slowly changing when new ideas evolve. Take for example a bicycle wheel. It has a rim, spokes and a hub; simple. But now make that hub out of 3-piece carbon fiber for maintenance and weight savings. Now make the spokes telescoping for adjust-ability and shock absorption. And how about a rim that provides a better braking surface? The simple wheel has just seen 3 cycles of feature creep.

Is it more work? Yes. Is it a higher bar with potentially more things that can go wrong? Absolutely. So why is it good?

Feature creep is our friend for one reason alone -- it is our outlet for all things innovative. It is the result of out-of-the-box thinking that bypasses our natural urge to avoid things that scare us; time, money, failures, delays, complexity -- all byproducts of doing something that you have never done before. But innovation is about that which is unproven -- that is exactly what makes it innovative! So the next logical question becomes "how do I leverage feature creep successfully?" The answer is one that has eluded all but the most tenacious of designers...


In the start up world that I live and breathe in, you MUST multitask if you ever hope to get a product designed, built, tested and completed in an outrageously short period of time, with very little money or resources. To multitask is to purposely take on 5, 10, or even 20 variations of a solution, and like a madman herding cats into a sack, manage all of them in parallel to get to the best solution. Some will fall to the wayside due to limitations in existing technology, others will prove to require too much effort or time, some will become science experiments, and some will just fall flat. But like shots on a hockey goal, the more you make the closer you get, and the better you become at it.

Multitasking is the bridle that controls the wild horse called feature creep. When you become a master at multitasking, you actually leverage feature creep to help you generate those alternate embodiments for a patent, those other versions of a design, and those other uses of a tool. Multitasking and feature creep go hand in hand, and compliment each other.

So the next project you're on, ask yourself if you purposely stopped feature creep from happening because you were scared of the ramifications. And then ask yourself what cool things did I miss because I set my own design constraints, instead of allowing innovation to occur.

I used to fight tooth and nail to prevent feature creep in my projects... now I embrace it with open arms.

...I just have to convince my coworkers to join me, at every start up I work with.