Fake It ’til You… Get Caught!
I’m sure we’ve all heard the term “Fake it ’til you make it.” It’s typically used to relay the mindset that people should act as if they are successful even if they aren’t yet, and that perception and attitude will eventually become a reality. Lately however, it seems this attitude has found its way into the tech world with regard to products, which begs the question,
Does the “fake it ’til you make it” approach actually work for product innovation?
I’ve written before about the hype curve as it relates to innovation, and how overselling the current use case of a product may actually hinder long term sales. I still stand by that post and my position on expectations vs. performance, but that piece talked about products that actually existed.
Does hyping a product that doesn’t exist have the same effect? Is it dangerous to innovation? Is it ethical?
To give a couple real world examples, let’s start with a company called Bleen. Bleen launched an Indiegogo campaign a couple years back looking to raise money for a small holographic projection system. They included quite a few images of the unit “in action” which consisted of some photoshopped mock-ups of full color, high contrast images projected into thin air in a bright room. They even went so far as to create a Wikipedia page for their “Chief Scientist” relaying all sorts of professional accomplishments and accolades without any citations at all for reference.
Even Infocomm referenced Bleen, citing them in one of their posts on holographic projection.
In the end, Bleen was debunked . They didn’t actually have anything close to what they were raising money for and the Wikipedia page on their “Chief Scientist” has since been deleted altogether. They were faking it ’til they made it…with other people’s money.
The latest company to make unfavorable headlines in the AR world was Magic Leap. Magic Leap gained some notoriety with their YouTube videos depicting their AR experiences. The most shared video depicts a gym full of kids watching a whale jump out of a gym floor and then crash down creating a huge splash. The problem is that Magic Leap is a headset based AR system and none of the kids in the audience are wearing AR helmets. The video seems to imply that they showed this content to a gym full of kids, when in reality they did not. The whole thing is staged and then computer generated content was added in.
Magic Leap got some bad press as of late for another YouTube video they released about a game “we’re playing around the office” showing an AR game that interfaced with physical objects in the room. The game was also just a computer generated mock up, and no one at Magic Leap was actually playing it at all.
Magic Leap was also faking it until they made it, and since they were exposed, executives seem to be running for the door.
Now as an industry, I can’t deny we have our share of vaporware. Typically however, these products are based on working prototypes but manufacturing issues or market conditions delay the release and/or make the product irrelevant before it hits production. That is wholly different than purporting that you have invented something that you haven’t in order to generate interest and funding.
In the end, I think that the “fake ’til you make it” approach to innovation is at best misleading and at worst dishonest. As AV innovators, we all have to start with a vision, and sometimes have to come up with great stories to relay that vision and get buy in. In that respect, many AV companies have started with an idea for a product that has never existed and built amazing companies and even invented new product categories altogether.
However, relaying a vision and strategy is different than creating fake videos that show a working product that does not actually exist or one that works markedly different than it is represented. I think it does a disservice to those out there doing the real work and potentially poisons the well for future efforts to do amazing things.
What do you think? Is faking a product a good way to generate funds for true innovation? Is it necessary or dishonest to overstate the current state of development to convince others to invest? I’d love to hear your take in the comments.