The Compounding Strength of “Network Effects”

I was made aware a of simple innovation to crowd control barriers at a recent Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT) introductory session at the Marathon Group. While normal barriers do well to serve as a visual restriction to a crowd they don’t possess the strength to stop a group of loosely coordinated individuals in a crowd from pushing the barrier down. As the crowd grows powerful with the more people added to it so does the new type of barrier.












It reminded me of a quote from Tron Legacy by Kevin Flynn:

“The more I fought the more powerful he became”

Facebook, as a business, gains value in a similar way. The more people who join and participate in the social network the more valuable it becomes.

Peter Thiel, in his book “Zero to One“, calls this type of innovation “network effects” and he lists it as one of the key components of creating a successful business.

Facebook isn’t the only example. PayPal, AirBnb, WhatsApp and Amazon have grown off the strength of their network effects.

True innovation requires an ability to solve a problem beyond a single dimension.

Don’t Fixate on a Single Dimension

One way to achieve this type of thinking is to forcefully remove the fixated usefulness an object/product possess and systematically explore alternative uses for it.

A great example is how Velcro was invented. When burrs stuck to his clothes one day during a walk G. de Mestral didn’t only see the problem of having to de-burr his clothes, instead he gained the inspiration for creating a self sticking fabric.

Steps to Innovation

1. Increase constraints

Creating a well defined success criteria of the problem you are attempting to solve then increase the constraints of the solutions space. The result is a more constructive effect than open or free thinking.

2. Dedicate good quality time

Dedicate extended, undistracted time to the solution process. This will assist in putting your mind out of a “sense and respond” mode and into a mode conducive to creative thinking.

3. Iterate over options

Iterate all objects/items in the problem domain. Within context ask yourself, “what else can this be used for”.

Innovation is a fundamentally difficult activity. Seeking alternative solutions involving existing tools and processes is key to establishing truly valuable solutions.


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