NBDB = Never Been Done Before! It's an Innovator’s Dilemma & Opportunity

Published by: Jeff Day

The first time I heard the phrase “never been done before” was when I was working with a large professional sports team franchise describing how they thought about fan experience. I LOVED IT! As much as we may want to believe we come for the game, more and more fans pay bigger money for the experience. After all, the tech and AV industries have done a phenomenal job of making your home space beyond exceptional for taking in a big game or event!

Great experiences, however, come at a price.


At the peril of saying it wrong, Clayton Christensen’s book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, captures two conflicting paradigms. First, product value increases over time. It follows an S-curve where, with many iterations, it gets better and better with time and value increases exponentially. Second, incumbent product innovators have the luxury of many users but are encumbered with maintaining sales of those platforms to keep financially vibrant and relevant. Market entrants do not have that battle and tend to be more nimble, focused, and quick. Nobody questions the necessity for organizations to innovate. But the innovator’s dilemma represents the realities faced by tech firms every day.

In the entertainment and brand activation spaces, the same dilemma holds true. Successful firms are not looking to copy what’s working as much as they are looking to break glass, redefine, and disrupt current views. It requires mad creative skills and the ability to not only think outside the box, but outside the shapes altogether. The new rules of the experience economy have dictated as much! “Innovate or die” in this scenario requires much, much more.

In the context of experience design, one of the most common challenges we see with organizations really trying to kick up major dust with their stories is how technology can be used to make that happen. Herein lies the challenge with NBDB. Tech firms find themselves outside the S-curve where value has not yet been fully established. Or in an established space struggling to get the focus needed to make real innovation happen. Wherever you might be, breaking out can be sink or swim.


The bottom line is that you don’t have a choice on the outcome you are driving with your directive. Wherever you find yourself on the innovators spectrum, consider these scenarios and some navigation advice.

  1. Low tech doesn’t mean low wow factor. Misnomer number one is the idea that everything must be inherently hyper connected for it to be cool. Don’t get me wrong, I love hyper connected. But sometimes low tech gets the job easily done! 
    Purina gets this big time! They are in the pet business but tell the story a completely different way. Thanks to the folks at Soul Pancake, they kick their story up through “Kitten Therapy.” Here, all it takes is a few minutes with the kittens to address the problem Purina really targets: stress therapy. Prime example of low tech, BIG WOW.
  2. Too much tech can squash a great experience. You know when you’ve seen it or been lured into it. I’ve seen great ideas hatch and crash in flames because the miss was in the “wow” factor. Sure, the tech was amazing, but in the end, did it disrupt a natural universe flow to make it work? Don’t get caught in this trap. Chances are if you miss this one, it will cost you dearly in both budget and credibility. Sometimes the creds can come from better design planning and harmonized cues. Pay attention to them.
  3. Know thy audience! Great tech that is mismatched to the audience is a huge pitfall. Sometimes we’re just too close to our own activations to know better. It’s so cool that it may be TOO cool, at least for the audience you're engaging. Pick tech your audience will use. 
    Blizzard entertainment gets this well. I attend a LOT of events. Mobile event conference apps are cool and can be tricky. At Blizzard’s eSports event, “BlizzCon,” there is a killer app that has what conference goers crave most: a Watch Tab. Here, conference goers can watch live streams of their favorite games or events. The app is perfectly tuned for the audience!
  4. Find the blend of tech and experience! I know, this is nirvana. But creating the emotional connection to your experience is counting on you getting this right. Here I see two degrees of coolness. Stuff I use every day in new and ingenious ways. And stuff I’ve never used at all. The key here is striking a good balance.

Stuff we use every day. We are smart phone junkies by now. Introducing a different way to take photos or share media that is clunky or introduces more steps is non-sensical. Leverage what’s already in place. I think location services enabled in Google Now, for example, is a prime way to do new, playful interventions. Yelp, for example, uses an augmented reality oculus that you can use with your phone to find cool restaurants nearby. With the tech already in hand, it uses my smart phone and camera, and delivers me new magic.

Stuff I’ve never used! At C2 in Montreal this year we used a very cool event badging system. Powered by Klik systems, I could point my badge at another’s who I wanted to exchange information with and BAM, info exchanged. A secondary microsite allowed me to see my queue of contacts and/or meetings (Brain Dates @ C2) that were scheduled. Clever and cool for sure! It added to the experience.


Never been done before (NBDB) may not always be as far away as you might think. In some cases, breaking glass and truly breaking out will force storytellers to gut check and test their assumptions. The innovator's dilemma makes it clear that opportunities may exist at either end of the spectrum for established tech. Or for completely new experiences not thought outside the box but in new boxes entirely. My advice is to GO FOR IT! Align your expectations and you can totally navigate it well!

Want to chat more about breaking out of the box? Drop us a line!


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