Peter Farrell and Andrew Kulyk of Buffalo, New York, aren't ordinary sports fans. In 1999, attending the All-Star game of the National Hockey League in Tampa, Florida, they decided to try to attend games at all the venues of the four major U.S. sports leagues: baseball, football, basketball, and hockey. They "finished" in December 2002, but since new venues are opening all the time, their odyssey continues.
Projects of this kind appear in almost every field of human endeavor. You can buy an anthology of every video ever released by Bruce Springsteen; you can join the New England 4,000 Footers Club by climbing every peak in New England exceeding 4,000 feet; or you can join the Seven Continents Club by running a marathon on each of the seven continents [Note].
This pattern is so common that we have a name for it: completism. In pop culture, completist activities are somewhat amusing (if sometimes questionable) hobbies, provided they don't interfere with one's health and well-being.
In business, completism is often an indicator of trouble. Here are some of the forms completism takes in business.
- The lopsided product line
- We sometimes offer products that exist mostly to "complete the set" — to make our offering span the entire market. We use descriptors like "full spectrum" or "complete" to describe these offerings.
- Does it make sense to offer products that serve less than 1% of the market? Perhaps, but we could ask the question more often than we do. Sometimes full coverage is important — it can simplify the buyer's decision process. But often, full coverage is simply completism and provides no advantage to buyer or seller.
- The overfull benefits menu
- Packing the menu of employee benefits is one approach to solving the problem of inadequate benefits. Some companies offer options that few people want and still fewer elect, but the menu appears to be complete, which makes it an attractive recruiting tool. The complexity of the offering is confusing in itself.
- Offering a simpler array of truly valuable benefits might be cheaper for the company, and more useful to its employees.
- Creeping featurism
- In product Does it make sense
to offer products that
serve less than 1%
of the market?design, completism sometimes leads to offering numerous capabilities that only a few users can understand and most wouldn't use even if they could understand them. To make the products look simple, we hide these features, which further reduces their accessibility.
- Simpler products are cheaper and easier to use. Reducing the feature array might make marketing more difficult, but let's solve marketing problems with marketing, not featuremongering.
Perhaps the most common and expensive example of completism at work is the compound failure — the failure to cancel the zombie project that has already failed but lives on. What are you or your company doing only for the sake of completeness? What would happen if you stopped? Top Next Issue
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