Product lifecycle parallels: a tree.

I was talking with a colleague about the parallels in nature to a product lifecycle – be interesting to read the feedback…

Usually products start out with a core range, maybe one (thinking of the beverage industry). From there, a company will add 1 more ( a light?), and then from there perhaps one to 3 more. After that initial buildup, that may have taken two to three, or four years, then the range extension will take off. Over the next couple of years, perhaps 5 to 7 more types will be added, including some seasonal products. After that there is not much more innovation possible, and the range may end up in the discount category, get bought for a last push up, or be discontinued.

Product dev. tree
Product dev. tree.

So, for the parallel. The tree starts out with a basic single trunk, then begins to branch off, perhaps one or two supplementary stalks. From there, each stalk will make more stalks or branches, each of which will also divide off. All the while, the tree is growing taller, though more slowly. Finally, the tree will reach its maximum height, with a large range of small, final branches. The tree will age, weaken, and eventually, as my colleague said, get blown over.

After looking at a couple of different product lifecycle representations, I noted that there is a lakc of instruction on what to do about the innovation point – towit – when does innovation start?  Taking the tree as an example, if we plant another tree, or trees, when the tree is at its height, and the little finger branches are expanding, is their enough time to compensate for the eventual loss of the tree? Nature is smart, if we can say that, in that trees make seeds, and these seeds should compensate if the main tree is lost. If you take an apple tree, it has its first apples, containing the seeds between 3 and 5 years into the life of the tree, which can live from between 35 and 100+ years.

Another example: If you ever go to the Redwood Forest north of San Francisco, California, look at how the redwoods replicate: they are already having new trunks growing while the primary is still active. I’ve never found an article regarding this (people have other things to do with their days apparently), but I thought it excellent forsight onthe part of the tree to already have the next generation to continue the DNA. In some cases there were three trees, always in a straight line, with the most mature, then the next, and then the new sapling – I’d like to say it was from left to right.

Virtuous Product Life CycleIn nature, therefore, “innovation” starts early, sometimes as early as the product’s lifecycle, with the host planning for its  own end almost at the beginning of its own life. The suggestion to companies would then be to begin by acknowledging that there is a life cycle to the product, and start planning for its eventual end almost at the beginning, turning the standard product life cycle into a “virtuous product life cycle” as I have attempted to demonstrate in the image to the right.

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