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So what’s a geek to do?

You have to have killer features or your application won’t be able to stand up to its competitors. Right? You have to keep adding things to new versions or no one will purchase upgrades and sales will stagnate. And you have to match the competition one-for-one so no one can ever say your application is light where the other guy’s is robust. Right?

To paraphrase Alan Cooper, however, trying to match competing products feature-for-feature is like running through a battleground under cover fire. You can run all you want, but you have to keep shooting to get anywhere. Dishing out cover fire keeps you alive for a few minutes at a time. Long enough to hide. Companies that fight all the time to stay ahead fall into the endless cycle of trying to outdo the enemy (if the enemy has a big gun, you need a bigger gun). This goes on and on until someone falls. It’s not a fun way to do things. It’s a method that works only as long as the people fighting the battle continue to come up with bigger guns. They spend all their time spraying out cover fire while they run 3 feet to the next safe position.

Many companies live and die this way. To get into the fight, you have to stock up on venture capital, go into major debt, hire a bunch of rock star developers, go straight to code because there’s no time to plan or design anything, and rush, rush, rush to market with a 27-page list of features. And if the enemy starts to catch up, you have to add more features, call the next version “the most robust release ever,” and try to maintain your market share. Until, of course, the enemy puts out a new version with even more features.

It’s exhausting.

It’s also exhausting for users. The more features you offer, the more the user has to learn. The more options you provide, the more users have to do to get anything done. The more you allow customization, the more users have to fidget and tweak and manipulate your application. They spend more time configuring the tool than using it. As a result of fighting the fight, complicated applications often end up much less usable than one would hope.

To stay alive, you eventually have to get out of the line of fire. It’s the only real option.

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