💩 POOP based innovation

Source: Barbara Case via Pixabay https://us04web.zoom.us/j/120163772

The aim of this article is to suggest that sometimes developing unique technology or capability is as important (and allows more sustainable innovation) as the opportunistic search for short term products targeting the crowd. This article is purposefully exaggerated to try and readdress that balance.

The influence of recent Silicon Valley startup memes has had some unexpected side effects. One of those side effects is the expectation that as an entrepreneur it’s a waste of time developing capability. You need to instead find a market opportunity and do whatever it takes (drink your food, hire interns, pay slave wages, raise the cost of rent in San Francisco etc) to seize that market.

My observation is that focusing on the the crowd as the only client, and ignoring any unique capability leads to the following things:


Figure 1: 💩 POOP Characteristics

It leads to 💩POOP!

As a result of these startup recipes there is a preponderance of 💩POOP based innovation.

What is 💩 POOP based innovation?

The correct term is 💩POOPER based innovation – but it’s commonly shortened to 💩POOP.

Products for One purpose and One Person without any diffERentiation.

How does 💩POOPing work? 

We find an opportunity and we extract value from it, hopefully by exploiting someone, because in this model there is no profit without someone else’s loss.

Some examples are:



Some anti 💩POOP examples, where extreme capability is built are:

  • Apple,
  • LifeBiosciences,
  • SpaceX,
  • SolarCity,
  • Tesla – pretty much everything Elon Musk does is a good counter to 💩POOP.  We need to clone Elon Musk a few hundred times.

In my view many proponents of Lean Startup follow this POOP model.

Why do people 💩POOP?

  • It seems easy.
  • There is often no punishment for short term wins and long term losses.
  • There is no punishment for parasitic opportunism. You often have to break rules (good and bad) to win and 💩POOPERs will break those rules no matter who they hurt.
  • It’s expected by many inhabitants of the startup industry.

Why is it happening now?

Because it’s a common Silicon Valley startup model, and you can pretend that without investing in anything in capability that you will magically make money.

How does 💩POOP work? 

As the startup model par excellence, it seems easy, because it doesn’t require much initial expertise, capability improvement, or invention. However, it rarely helps the community wellbeing, and often requires breaking the rules in order to differentiate.


Figure 2: 💩 POOP Lifecycle

What path should we instead take?

We need to move from “unethical 💩POOP” (for example uninsured employees and customers) up through the other types of 💩POOP (like “Gig 💩POOP” and “Trivial 💩 POOP” and “No one needs this 💩POOP”) to models which improve technology, grow capability and create pioneering expertise.

  • We need to move from celebrating a quick extraction of value towards growth in capability and adaptability.
  • We need to innovate more without 💩POOP.

In order to achieve that we need to do three things which will help us create and invent better stuff. Those three things are 1) Engaging with Technology, 2) Choosing Differentiation and 3) Creating Capability, explained below.

Engage with Technology

Bean (2018) reported on an annual executive survey (60 Fortune 1000 or industry-leading companies) where 71.8% of executives indicate that investments in AI will have the greatest impact on their ability to stave off disruption. However you have to be able to understand the technology well enough in order to be able to use it. Understanding technology gives you options as to which direction you can go, or what products or services you could make.

Choose Differentiation

Porter (2011), a giant in the strategy field said: “A company can outperform its rivals only if it can establish a difference that it can preserve. Strategic positioning means performing different activities from rivals or performing similar activities differently.”

Differentiation is exactly that – doing stuff which is hard to copy, and if you are creating new inventions or innovations then its really hard for you to be copied.

Create Capability and Expertise

Creating capability is similar to creating core competencies. which can be defined (by Wikipedia) as “a harmonized combination of multiple resources and skills that distinguish a firm in the marketplace”. Core competency been recognised for decades as important in maintaining or increasing business performance. Creating expertise gives you adaptability and the ability to build more sophisticated and powerful things.

These three points are really 3 sides of the same coin.


Figure 3: Coin of Capability

Notice what isn’t there:

  • Operational excellence
  • Paying staff below minimum wage
  • (Other) unethical things


The raison d’être of the 💩 POOP innovation models was to try and reduce the risk of failure by preventing any entrepreneurial activities without first finding a market and finding a way to extract value from it. Built into these models was the expectation (never stated) that some sort of software programming capability was available. However when you approach innovation without any unique expertise your offerings will be easy to copy and unlikely to create positive change, because any such innovations are likely to be shallow. To balance this focus on extracting opportunities, we need to have some focus on developing capabilities and expertise, not only because that leads to more sustainable value creation in a business, but also because it much more likely to add value to society.

Going forward I want you all to 💩POOP less!

ps: here is some stuff which is definitely not 💩POOP!

I’m running workshops in Sydney on the topic of assisting non technical decision makers build expertise in managing AI:  https://www.johnshea.me/signup-ai-for-decision-makers/

pps: One of the fun things writing this article was that in my todo list I would have entries like “Finish Poop”, “Expand Poop”, “Shorten Poop”, “Add description of Poop”. Well, at least I had a laugh about it 😂


  • Randy Bean (2018), How Big Data and AI Are Driving Business Innovation in 2018, MIT Sloan Management review.
  • Michael Porter (2011) “What is Strategy” Harvard Business Review, HBR’s 10 Must reads.
  • Wikipedia, Core competency (accessed 25.03.2019) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Core_competency.

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