The power of boring

Dharmesh Shah has written a great post about the power of polarization over on

I find the "be remarkable" message tremendously inspiring and exciting. It makes me think.

And yet …

… is it actually true that curve-jumping companies selling remarkable products to a small but polarised audience are more successful than boring companies selling average products to average people?

I’m not convinced. For every Apple there’s a Microsoft; for every for Twitter a SAS institute; for every 37signals, an SAP. There are a lot of very boring, very succesful companies quietly knuckling down to the boring business of figuring out what customers want, building it and then selling it to them.

The ‘remarkable’ companies are, by definition, companies that stick in our minds. But we shouldn’t blindly follow them, basing our decisions on individual, vivid and easy-to-recall examples when the data lies in the dull.

5 responses to “The power of boring”

  1. Simon Galbraith says:

    Neil – I couldn’t agree more. A lot of the examples from Seth Godin and others are those that anecdotally appear to agree with them, without a deep analysis of the true reason for their success. For example Southwest Airlines is held up as a poster child of how you can succeed by loving your customers (their stock market ticker is LUV). However Ryanair, which has roughly the same business model, treats its customers with contempt (Ryanair has been voted as the World’s Least Favorite Airline by TripAdvisor). Both are really successful despite having polar opposite approaches to customer service. I’d guess both airlines have succeeded because they do the boring bits of operating a low cost model brilliantly.
    I think you are correct that satisfying the core requirements of what customers truly need is much more important than getting a small group of people very very excited.

  2. Corey says:

    But there’s more to running a business than turning a profit. Or at least, there can be. For me the reason the curve-jumpers are exciting and inspirational is because they provide a model for business success that ALSO provides a model for “spiritual” success. They break down the old idea that you can either make money or do what you love.
    CAN you succeed by being a ruthless cold-hearted bastard? Clearly, for certain definitions of “success”, anyway.
    But I don’t WANT to be a ruthless cold-hearted bastard. I’ll never be any good at it, anyway, and it doesn’t sound like much fun. The reason I’m more interested in the Southwests and Apples isn’t because I think they offer the ONLY path to success, but because they offer a path to business success that looks like fun to me.
    And life’s too short to not have fun.

  3. brydon says:

    I didn’t take Dharmesh’s post to mean you couldn’t be boring. If some people call your product boring then you’ve polarized people haven’t you? I took it to say take a stand, piss some people off. Being boring pisses some people off.

  4. I think a distinction should be made between seemingly boring, fairly mass-market products and niche markets. Actually, SAS has been a revoluntionary company in many ways, most significantly in the way it treats employees. The reverence for the company is astounding, even among people who have no idea about its business. As for Southwest, yes, they do treat customers well, but I like them primarily for their new boarding system, their on-time record, and cheap fares. That sounds boring, but when placed in context with the competition, it’s amazing.
    I’m convinced that given a singular vision and execution excellence, a company can be remarkable with the most pedestrian of products.

  5. Alison says:

    Twitter vs SAS. I love them both – but that’s an interesting juxtaposition.
    I wonder, is it possible to be both boring and exciting? How can we challenge larger *quiet* companies to continue providing products that customers really need and to anticipate future needs at the same time?
    From my perspective as a SAS marketer, I also enjoy the challenge of finding new ways to make analytics sound cool.