X-Acto Knife Versus Swiss Army Knife Products

 

Recently I watched Des Traynor, co-founder of the popular customer communication tool Intercom, deliver a talk that codifies much of how I have come to think about building new products. He highlights the difference in utility between a scalpel (known as an X-Acto knife in the arts world) and a Swiss Army Knife in order to emphasize the importance of simplicity and “doing one job”. The difference, Traynor explains, is a product that does one thing extremely well versus a bunch of things kind-of well. This difference can mean life or death for your product or feature. Think about it: Do you know anyone who would rather open a bottle of wine with a Swiss Army Kine instead of a wine opener? Both can accomplish the goal, but one is designed specifically for the task.

So, when I am thinking about new products and features, I’m always striving for an X-Acto knife product: A product that does one thing extremely well; a product that is insanely useful to a very specific group of people. A product that isn’t just something new but instead creates new value. Then, once you’ve started simple by doing one thing incredibly well, you can increase complexity with time. Complex systems cannot be built the other way around.

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John Marbach

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08 2017

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