Technology

The "Duh" Moment: When Big Ideas Are Obvious Next Steps

By / Jul 16, 2013 (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

Sometimes, the game-changing tech idea isn’t an out-there vision, but a modest change that expands your reach in a directly trackable way.

Last week, the local-review site Yelp did something obvious—obviously inspired, that is.

Sometimes, even a relatively simple innovation can have big ripple effects, depending on what it means to the people using the technology.

The company, which has been listing restaurants and other businesses online for nearly a decade, recently launched a feature that fulfills the obvious next step for someone looking at a Yelp page—now, people can start a delivery order directly from a restaurant’s page without having to move on to another site. Instead of offering this functionality itself, which would take a long time to implement, Yelp is working with partners such as Eat24 and Delivery.com.

Other kinds of bookings are in the works, too. Have you had to book a dentist appointment online lately? Not much fun, right? Yelp is trying to fix that.

Now, here’s the thing—Yelp’s infrastructure is likely by no means small, and between the business deals and the technology driving the concept, making a move like this probably took a lot more work than it looks like from the outside. (For one thing, they tied this feature launch to a new “platform” service for developers.) But for end users, it doesn’t feel like a huge feature, it just looks like an extra button or two. That’s a major reason why the idea is a tiny bit of genius.

And strategically, it looks even smarter. See, Yelp made the move at a time when the two biggest companies in the online delivery space, Grubhub and Seamless, had recently merged. Suddenly, a modest extra button or two begins to look like a leveraging of strategy.

You could totally do things like this with your association’s technology efforts.

Small Pivot? Big Deal

In some industries, you might hear a move like this called a “pivot” or a “refocus” of the business, but it doesn’t need to be that big a deal. The best examples of this concept are the ones where the added feature is something users wanted without realizing it.

Associations can take advantage of strategy approaches like this, too. Are you finding your print publication isn’t meeting your members’ needs anymore? Expanding online efforts in ways designed to wow your members might be the obvious next step. You don’t have to commit to the approach fully at first. Experimenting is OK.

Conversely, taking advocacy efforts and making them more easily accessible to your members with a mobile app may seem like a large undertaking for your organization, but for your members, it might seem obvious by the time they fire up the app.

Even dead-simple innovations could fall in this category. What if your closed community had extra functionality that made it easier to save smart ideas into Evernote or other places? Considering what’s out there, it may not be a lot of extra work, but it could make your members’ lives easier.

The rule of thumb here? The small innovations add up, sometimes in big ways.

Expand on Your Strengths

Sometimes, even a relatively simple innovation can have big ripple effects, depending on what it means to the people using the technology.

An example of this comes from Dropbox, which last week launched a developer platform that expands its feature set beyond the traditional “magic folder” concept that turned the company into a major player in the cloud space.

Now Dropbox is trying to make it easier to sync content between platforms, complete with tools that expand what developers can do with it. That expansion sounds interesting, if obvious, but in the right hands, it could enable some big ideas—something proven by the platform development firm Xarmain, which created a demo based on the new syncing tools:

Not bad for a first try, right?

It speaks to something that’s important to keep in mind for many trade groups: They’re often the leaders in their respective industries, and sometimes leadership involves setting up the framework that lets others shine.

Does it matter if an idea is obvious if it reaches toward your larger goals, if it enables the members you’re working for to create complex, not-so-obvious ideas of their own?

Just because it might seem obvious to add a link to a website letting people order lunch doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. If there’s a traceable impact, it’s probably worth doing.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna get a burrito.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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