Innovation Motivation: Verschlimmbesserung

Your company’s reminder to innovate with intent

Verschlimmbesserung. 

You don’t have to be able to say it to fall victim to it. This German word is roughly translated to “an action that is supposed to improve something, but ends up making it worse.”

Sound familiar? Asking yourself and your team just a few simple questions can get to the heart of your motivations to innovate.

 

More than a difficult word to say

Verschlimmbesserung. This multi-syllable word directly translates to “a bad improvement” or “disimprovement.” It’s when the faucet in your bathroom is leaky just a little and instead of calling a plumber, you decide to take it on yourself— bursting pipes and flooding your home in the process.

It’s a mistake that many of us can relate to. In a world with shorter attention spans, ever-evolving technological needs and the steep competition to get eyeballs on your product at any cost, it can be easy to fall victim to “disimprovement.”

 

Snapchat: A case study in disimprovement

In November 2017, Snapchat unveiled a new update to a test audience, completely transforming the look and application of the popular platform. After the new year, the update was released to all users with goals to separate friends’ content from celebrities or publishers by creating a new section of the app. Thousands of users signed petitions asking for a way to uninstall the update.

It’s a common occurrence for apps to reinvent themselves in an attempt to provide users a new and improved experience, hopefully with better functionality and tools. And while most updates are met with pushback at first, the creatures of habit in all of us learn to adapt. But that was not the case with this Snapchat update. Celebrities known for using the app stopped being active on it all together, citing its new navigation as too confusing. After a tweet from Kylie Jenner stating she didn’t really use the app much anymore, the company saw a $1 billion decrease in their valuation. Ouch.

 

Fear of change

Numbers like this could scare companies, even on a smaller scale, to “stick with what they know.” When sales drive decisions, it’s easy to halt innovation, but I think there’s some middle ground between these two downfalls— there is a safe space to grow strategically.

The desire to grow is inherently a positive attribute that your company should look to embody, but that growth should be in an attempt to bring your consumer a better product, a wider range of services or a more personalized experience. Innovation with the sole goal of being new, different, on the cutting edge can lead you to verschlimmbesserung.

 

Practical tool

When discussing changes within your company, especially when it comes to how you present yourself, like your website, social media account or brand guide, check your intentions. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

 

  • Did this change stem from a desire to clarify an issue?
  • Does this change attempt to streamline a process for either the company or the consumer?
  • Is this new idea a result of thoughtful brainstorming or competitive edge?

 

These questions get right to the heart of innovation, naming clarity and usability as positive motivators.

Even so, it’s important to remember that sometimes you strike out. You won’t always get it right. Much of innovation is trial and error. But making decisions with the data to back it up or the goals clearly outlined can set you up for success.

You don’t have to be able to pronounce it succumb to it.  Ver-schlim-bes-eh-rung (n): your company’s reminder to create with intention.