On the surface, Industry Standards seem like a good thing for everyone. They help make products more interoperable, give consumers more vendor choice, and make changing suppliers a breeze. Sounds pretty good, right?

Well, not quite.

Think about the real innovations and cool new things that you have brought into you life. I bet if you think about it you will agree that most, if not all, of these innovations required that you abandon some form of “compatibility” with the past.

Here are just a few: smartphones and tablets forced the entire industry to write new applications as opposed to trying to leverage PC “standards.” DVD players forced us to replace all of our VHS tapes. The new all-electric cars require a completely different infrastructure. Even in software the changes that offer the most “value” will generally require more “incompatibility.” Facebook and Twitter have changed the fundamental way in which we socialize. Salesforce.com was a total game-changer in enterprise CRM delivery AND totally incompatible with the ability to run in a “private datacenter.”

I believe that industry standards essentially surrender a technology element to a low-value commodity. Standards are effectively an industry agreement to stop innovating in a particular area.  Please don’t get me wrong; there are many, many areas where standards are both necessary and good. But sometimes standards inhibit both innovation and risk taking.

I am trying to make the simple point that standardization and innovation are almost always inversely related. Think about it. It is rare to find a new product is 100% compatible and 10X better. VMware is that last technology product I remember that had this rare combination of compatibility and improvement.

When you are looking to create a radically innovative product or service, the more you constrain your team to legacy compatibility the less likely they will be able to innovate. Again, abandoning compatibility should only happen when the new product or service can be radically better.  Being incompatible with only a marginal value improvement is a total loser.

If you want your team to innovate, the first rule should be that there are no rules…


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