Snippets of Wisdom: What Avatar reviews tell us about inventiveness.

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Avatar isn't the first 3D film - or the first sci-fi film - to tackle issues of colonialism, and neither is it the first to feature CGI characters. If the set-up of the movie had been that original, not even Cameron could have got such lavish backing for it. The game-changer must be the best, not the newest. It must take familiar and popular elements to a new level. The previous two game-changers were not distinguished by their originality, but by their extraordinary invention and their capacity to place a new spin on what had gone before.

I saw this gem in a review of James Cameron's new movie Avatar. It's certainly not the first time I've read variations on this view of commercially successful innovators. But it bears repeating. The first-mover advantage doesn't mean much if your implementation isn't great. In fact, innovators face a tremendous challenge overcoming inertia. That's why Hollywood sequels are such a mainstay of box office commercialism. People know what they're getting and it doesn't require much cognitive effort from buyers to make the 'safe' choice.

So the lesson I take from these kind of examples is that you really need to focus on what your product does for the end-user, not necessarily what new technology is under the covers. The really great products take a technology that is new (but not-quite-bleeding-edge) and combine it with a deep understanding of what problems it can solve for the viewer, user, or buyer.

Just don't overdo it.