Gillette is releasing a new razor, and, let’s just say, everyone is not a fan of it. New York Mag’s headline read, “Gillette’s New Razor Is Everything That’s Wrong With American Innovation.” A lot of people ran with this idea, even some of the blogs that I usually follow.

I am not saying I like the razors. And I certainly won’t be buying any. But let’s examine why the arguments in the article are wrong.

By now, everyone knows how razor companies make their money. They sell you cheap razor handles, then burn you later with expensive cartridge refills.

What we also know is that this is how the printer industry also makes all of their money. So, is it the razor companies or the printer companies that are the worst? Or maybe all companies that earn recurring revenue from their clients are bad for innovation. Perhaps razor handles are cheap because they are a dumb stick. Perhaps razor cartridges are expensive because they represent a lot of technology that we throw away after a short while.

On top of that business model, Gillette and other market leaders introduced an arms-race component to the industry – going from two blades to three, then to four and five and six. Each new blade adds only a smidgen of extra utility(…)

Sure there is an arms race happening, but who decides what a “smidgen of extra utility” is? The authors assumption seems to be that each new generation of blade does add utility. But apparently each successive generation doesn’t add enough.

The newest razor, the ProGlide FlexBall, claims essentially two things. First, the ball is supposed to make shaving easier. Ok, this is fairly subjective. Ease of use will likely vary. Maybe it will be awesome. Like rolling a little Dyson vacuum across your face. Or, maybe it will be terrible. Second, the razor is supposed to miss 20% fewer hairs and give you a shave that is 23 microns shorter than the previous generation.

Even if the new razor is more effective than old ones (which I doubt), a swivel ball that gets facial hair 23 microns shorter isn’t a “moonshot.”

I have to admit, like the author, I was not impressed by 23 microns. But then I realized that I have no idea what 23 microns means in practical terms. We know it is about one quarter the width of a human hair. But what does that mean to my face?

Our good friends at Wikipedia tell us that human hair grows about 0.5 inches per month or 12,700 microns. In an average month(30 days), your hair will grow at about 17.64 microns per hour. If Gillette’s numbers are accurate then you will be improving your face by over an hour each day. And, the difference will be even more dramatic for people that skipped a generation of razors. I am still using razors from two or three generations ago; if I switched to the ProGlide FlexBall my face would see even a larger improvement. Perhaps someone may have a sensitive face and fewer passes across their skin is highly beneficial.

(…) but it convinced gullible customers that they needed to upgrade their models every few years to stay current. (…) It’s a dumb novelty that is meant to trick customers into believing that their old, swivel-free razors are outmoded, and that they should pony up for the new model. And what’s worse is that it will probably work.

The author insults the intelligence of consumers everywhere. Consumers in the author’s eyes are dumb and gullible. Willing to buy any refuse put before them. These are the same arguments thrown at Apple and people that line up for their products. There is a whole cottage industry destroying that bad punditry.

Do people sometimes buy things they don’t need? Sure. Can people be tricked? Why not. But it is not likely that large portions of the population can be continually tricked into parting with their dollars when there are viable alternatives. If people don’t find value in a product or they find a better alternative, then they will spend their money elsewhere.

The author seems to recognize this. But, rather than using it as the logical sequence of events, the author uses it as an attack.

It could have thrown more money into research and development for a completely new, whiz-bang product – an affordable home laser hair-removal system, for example, that would eliminate the need for razors altogether. It could even have copied the upstarts and introduced a mail-order razor club of its own while it figured out the next big thing.

Gillette has made a strategic decision to develop a certain type of razor. If the alternatives, laser hair-removal systems or cheap mail order razors, are in fact better then people will buy them and Gillette will lose money. (and can we talk about how ludicrous laser hair removal is as an alternative to shaving!? Men shave because they don’t want a beard today. They don’t shave because they want to lose the ability to grow a beard forever).

The author seems to misunderstand that innovation is actually iteration. Few Nikola Teslas exist that can change the world in huge leaps with every new invention. For the most part, changes happen incrementally. There are real challenges to success and new inventions. We’d be better to talk about those issues and just vote about razors with our wallets.

Innovation and Gillette
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