Oreo theory of product integration

OK, we need to talk about OREOs ... and how they impacted my view of product iteration.

(Sometimes I hate being a software developer.)

A package of Space Dunk oreos

I'm sure you've seen the Cambrian explosion of Oreo flavors, the outer limits of which were brought home to me with Space Dunks - combining Oreos with Pop Rocks. (And yes, your mouth does fizz after eating them.)

Putting aside the wisdom or sanity of whoever dreamt up the idea in the first place, it's clear that Oreo is innovating on its tried-and-true concept – but doing so without killing off its premier product. There is certainly some cannibalization of sales going on, but ultimately it doesn't matter to Nabisco because a) regular Oreos are popular enough that you'll never kill them off completely, and b) halo effect (your mom might really love PB oreos but your kid hates them, so you now you buy two bags instead of one!)

In software, we're taught that the innovator's dilemma tends to occur when you're unwilling to sacrifice your big moneymaker in favor of something new, and someone else without that baggage comes along eats your cookies/lunch.

Why can't you do both?

There are a number of different strategies you could employ, from a backend-compatible but disparate frontend offering (maybe with fewer features at a cheaper cost, or radically new UX). What about a faux startup with a small team and resources who can iterate on new ideas until they find what the market wants?

But the basic idea remains the same: Keep working away at the product that's keeping you in the black, but don't exclude experimentation and trying new approaches from your toolkit. Worst-case scenario, you still have the old workhorse powering through. In most cases, you'll have some tepid-to-mild hits that diversify your revenue stream (and potentially eat at the profit margins of your competitors) and open new opportunities for growth.

And every once in a while you'll strike gold, with a brand-new product that people love and might even supplant your tried-and-true Ol' Faithful.

The trick then is to not stop the ride, and keep rolling that innovation payoff over into the next new idea.

Just maybe leave Pop Rocks out of it.

I had the Platonic ideal of peanut butter pies at my wife's graduate school graduation in Hershey, PA, like five years ago. (They were legit Reese's Peanut Butter Pies from Mr. Reese himself.) I've chased that high for years, but never found it again. The peanut butter pie Oreos were probably the closest I've gotten.