Face to Face With a Zealot – Why Innovation Gets Throttled
March 23, 2010 Leave a comment
I had an interesting brush with zealotry the other day that served as a stark reminder of what those of you who make IT security decisions for your respective organizations face on a daily basis. This experience folded nicely with a great blog post by Rich Mogull in the Securosis blog (“There is No Market for Security Innovation“) because I think the zealotry I experienced is one of many factors that throttle innovation.
I was on the phone with a partner discussing how we could align our respective products to cooperatively go to market. Joining the call was a product manager (who I shall call PM going forward) for a specific product within the partner’s product line. I was asked to describe what our product could do, and after doing so, was immediately met with PM conveying a general sense of “my product does all of that and more” as I was subjected to an enthusiastic Gatling gun fusillade of breathless features and counterclaims.
By the time the PM was done describing the length, breadth and depth of PM’s product, I could almost feel the hair growing back on my bald spot and my previously receding hairline reclaiming lost ground on my forehead. I am quite sure world hunger was also on the decline and cold fusion was only minutes from discovery. Fortunately, as my cynicism and hair loss problem probably indicate, this is not my first rodeo, and I had done some pretty extensive competitive research on PM’s product. Suffice to say the general consensus amongst the analysts and reviewers (including user feedback) does not reflect the unbridled enthusiasm of PM.
After the call I stepped back to think about the exchange and tried to put myself into the shoes of the prospects I see almost daily. I got the sense that PM either did not care to hear me or the zealotry simply overwhelmed him/her. What was most important to PM was to tell me all of the things the product could do rather than align with me as a partner. I am quite certain the same thing would have happened if I was a buying prospect – I would have been told what the product would do rather than how it would help address my specific problem. Any question I had would have been met with an enthusiastic “Yes” before I got half of my sentence out. I am not accusing PM of being deceptive – I choose the word zealot because zealots honestly believe they have that capability.
Mogull notes that buyers don’t consider innovative products until they believe “existing tools are failing so badly that you can’t keep the business running”. An exchange with a zealot such as I experienced would certainly give a buyer enough assurances – whether the buyer believes it or wants to believe it to avoid a purchase – to step away from making a bet on a newer product.
Prior to RSA I had a blog entry where I described similar zealotry on the exhibit floor under the name denial of innovation attack (Beware the “Denial of Innovation” Attack at RSA). My encounter with PM reminds me that this is not an RSA specific phenomenon and is in fact a daily occurrence. I appreciate that PM was doing his/her job, but it was a stark reminder to be on the other side of the equation and it certainly gives me a renewed appreciation for those of you who make buying decisions for your respective organizations.