I just saw a great post on Seth’s blog about challenging convention. I really admire how he generates cool insights and puts them simply so they are easy to remember. As I was reading his tips for challenging convention, it occurred to me that there’s a deeper issue below such challenges. He refers to the convention as “it” and I began to wonder about the possibilities of “it”.
One of my favorite movie lines is “there could be anything in there!” (from: A Christmas Story), and this statement is so true here. It really matters in his third point about leverage. If “it” is a simple change to a control knob, your leverage challenge is relatively straightforward and concrete. If “it” is a new paradigm of consumption, your leverage challenge requires a whole different level of challenging. Some types of leverage are more powerful than others, but most importantly you should use the right one for the task at hand.
For example: are you trying to challenge the convention of a controlling music volume (Seth’s example)? By shifting the convention from a physical knob to a digital slider you can focus on the physical parameters of the human/machine interaction. But if a person is not already of the mindset to interact with music via a computer, your users will experience a disconnect. The more effective leverage point would be to focus on the mindset of listening to music via a computer first, then shifting your focus to the digital interaction.
I believe this is what Apple did with the first iPod. The early generation machines still had familiar physcial controls. Now the iPhone has a completely digital touch screen. If they had not first gotten people to listen to music via the iTunes system, I would think the adoption of the touch screen may have struggled.
For more ideas about leverage points, Dana Meadows provides a great spectrum in her article: Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System. Check out the summary on Wikipedia.