James Governor's Monkchips

WD-40 as a model for software innovation

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Who knew it began as a missile cleaning agent?
The product began from a search for a rust preventative solvent and de-greaser to protect missile parts. WD-40 was created in 1953 by three technicians at the San Diego Rocket Chemical Company. Its name comes from the project that was to find a “Water Displacement” compound. They were successful with the Fortieth formulation, thus WD-40.

The Corvair Company bought it in bulk to protect their Atlas missile parts. The workers were so pleased with the product they began smuggling (also known as “shrinkage” or “stealing”) it out to use at home. The executives decided there might be a consumer market for it and put it in aerosol cans. The rest is hist-ory. Ken East (one of the original founders) says there is nothing in WD-40 that would hurt you.
I couldn’t help seeing the same pattern for software. Users always come up with far more interesting applications than vendors initially think of. If you provide a tool, then the world outside will always think of more interesting uses for it than you did.
With today’s culture of perpetual beta, and getting software into people’s hands as quickly as possible, I can’t help wondering how many more uses for WD-x the market would have worked out if it had had access to WDs 1-39
This is another reason why its important not to put too many restrictions on your data. People will find more interesting uses for it than you have. DRM inhibits innovation. Richness comes in three dimensions.

One comment

  1. James, most vendors do not appreciate enough what consumers do in the form of applied innovation. Instead of cooked food, may be they should be focused on better grills and let CIOs create magic. Lighter and cheaper building blocks.

    Also, the industry economics in general are not really friendly to innovation. Realize more dollars does not mean more innovation (a la 37Signals) but it is guaranteed to generate more innovation than spending 50c on every dollar on sales, marketing and admin. If vendors are serious about innovation, the product designers and engineers need to be treated like rock stars and sent on Hawaii trips not just the sales guys.

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