Useful and valuable

An innovation happens when an idea is both useful and valuable to the customer.

One of the things that stuck with me from reading Braden Kelley’s book Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire is something that is rarely mentioned when deciding on an idea to execute: the distinction between useful and valuable.

Usually we have products and services that are useful but not valuable. But then again what’s useful and valuable to you is not the same for me. For example, Evernote is both useful and valuable to me because I can write, save, edit, clip notes and access them from wherever I am. Evernote is a tool for the information obsessed like me. I’m on the fanatic end of their users where I can’t imagine going back to not using Evernote.

On the other hand, an opposite example is Facebook,while useful is not really valuable to me. I could care less if Facebook disappears tomorrow. But if Twitter disappeared tomorrow I would feel empty. Twitter is both useful and valuable to me for many reasons.

Like I said, this might not be the same for you.

One size fits all makes it difficult to be both

This is the complexity of creating products or services that aim to satisfy a specific need with a one size fits all approach. Some customers will see your product or service as both useful and valuable while others may just find it useful. This is where it’s our job to help those customers ‘discover’ the usefulness in what we offer either by educating them or by influence through fanatic customers. This is also why word of mouth works, it’s more likely that we like what our friends like, from their ability to show why his new toy is the greatest thing in the world and we might just give it a shot.

Complementary ain’t that bad

Taking the Facebook and Twitter example, another thing to consider is that while the media likes to put them head to head, they’re both different. And that makes them more valuable. Some of us can imagine life without Facebook and others without Twitter, but can you imagine life without both?

Both complement each other and that makes them, IMO, more valuable. That’s also why it’s so important to differentiate!

But still it’s not ‘either’ ‘or’, it’s ‘and’

There are certain products and services that will be both useful and valuable to some, but those are very scarce. But that shouldn’t stop us from considering thinking about how useful and valuable it is for the customer when creating a new product or service.

Braden nails it in this short paragraph from the book:

Often usefulness comes from what a product or service does for you, and value comes from how it does it. If you’re looking to truly deliver innovative products and services into the marketplace, then once you succeed at the designing and developing the ‘what’, don’t forget to also focus on achieving excellence in the ‘how’.


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  • Hi Jorge, I’m finally making it to leave a short comment here πŸ˜‰ I like your differentiation as it reminds me of different levers for innovation:
    – For me, ‘what’ refers to the basic value proposition, usually related to the business model.
    – ‘How’ is basically linked to the actual realization of the value proposition (solution)
    The former is often subject of radical innovation, wheras the latter is continuously improved.

    This would of course imply, that something that isn’t useful is not valuable either.

    Do I get your point? πŸ˜‰

    Cheers, Ralph

    • @ralph_ohr,

      Yes you laid it out nicely. As many point out, it’s easier to make something useful first and the value is revealed later as usage increases. But still I think it would be ‘useful and valuable’ to ponder whether an idea is ‘useful’ but also ‘valuable’ before implementation and try to make it valuable from the beginning. But this is very difficult to achieve.

      I think this is where knowing the customer and the market really well can give an advantage for a individual/firm that takes the ‘useful and valuable’ approach as opposed to the ‘useful’ then ‘valuable’ approach.




  • Kevin Mcfarthing

    Hi Jorge, good article. I would suggest that useful and valuable are on the same broad continuum, not distinct descriptors. The scale is defined by the involvement the user has with the product. When you’re deeply involved, as you are with Twitter, the thought of not having it disturbs you. When you can take or leave something, like FB in your case, you are ascribing a lower level of both usefulness and value to it. You don’t use it as much and it has less value.

    I strongly agree with the “what” and “how” – I find applying these two questions is very useful in so many things. My business helps companies who want to improve both the effectiveness of innovation (the “what’) and the efficiency (the “how”). It’s an important distinction.


    • Hello Kevin,

      Great point. I guess value is achieved, as you point out, after the involvement has been had for awhile. No argument there πŸ™‚

      BTW, where can we find you? Twitter?

      Thanks for the valuable comment πŸ™‚

      • Kevin Mcfarthing

        Hi Jorge – you can find me on Twitter @InnovationFixer, my website is, and if you’re ever in Oxford (UK) I’ll treat you to dinner.


        • @innovationfixer,

          Great to know what your @ is. Whenever I’m in Oxford I’ll take you up on the offer πŸ™‚