Category Archives: Insight2
I was supposed to fly to Baltimore this morning to do in-home research throughout the week. With the impending “perfect storm of the century” bearing down on the East Coast, that has obviously been cancelled. I’ve been watching this storm approach since late last week trying to figure out if/how it would affect my business plans. By mid-day yesterday (Sunday) I cancelled the trip. The funny thing is, I got an email from the recruiting firm in Baltimore (that we use to help us line up consumers for the research) late afternoon stating that “we are fully planning to conduct business as usual both within our office and outside of our office”. It went on to say that if we did encounter any issues (like a delayed flight in) to please advise them, and they would help us navigate through any complications.
Unexpected delays? Really??? It turns out my flights had already been cancelled (24 hours in advance – I’ve never had that happen before). The Eastern Seaboard has shut down almost all public transportation. Baltimore alone had 7 Severe Weather Warnings as of this morning, predicting massive power outages, severe flooding, devastating winds, etc. But it’s good to know that my contact there was welcoming us in and letting us know they’d help us if we ran into any inconveniences.
Optimism is one thing. But burying your head in the sand is quite another. I’ve never personally met the guy that sent me the email, I’m sure he’s a great person. But how can anyone be so oblivious? Yet having said that… I see this in business all the time. People are warned about incoming storms, they see it on the horizon, but they remain convinced that it won’t impact them Be it economic, or personnel related most corporate crises were obvious in coming, when looking backward.
Running a business is really not that much different than planning for a storm. We need to be constantly watching the horizon, listening to the news and being aware of our surroundings. When we hear of an impending storm, we need not panic, but we should put contingency plans into place. We need to set aside ample reserves in the good times to get us through rough stretches. And we need to invest in the future to make us more resilient for future storms.
I pray that our contacts in Baltimore all weather this storm safely. But my guess is it won’t be business as usual, and they’ll probably have to deal with some unexpected delays. As for me and my business, I’m going to take this as a good reminder and lesson.
My company, Insight2, was a major sponsor of the first annual Day of Innovation (#dayofinnovation). The event was put on by Centric, a local Indy-based innovation organization. It was an incredible day featuring keynote speakers, breakout sessions, experiential activities and networking. Capping off the evening was the second annual Indiana Innovation Awards which recognized nine companies from around the state for their successful and unique new product offerings.
The beauty of this event was in its diversity. There are several other innovation groups around Indianapolis, but they are all very focused on their segment (e.g. tech-sector, medical products, start-ups, non-profit). This was the first event that really reached out to all segments and provided value from a variety of sources. One panel discussion alone included a consumer products company, an alternative energy solution and a B2B branding company. The topic was Effective Innovation. It was fantastic to see both the similarities and the differences between these three groups in terms of what is effective and what drives effectiveness.
Each of us should continually expose ourselves to ideas and philosophies that fall outside of our normal circles. We learned about a non-profit that went from losing money to triple-digit growth based upon ethnographic research. We heard about the value of conflict in the innovation process and we heard 9 key steps to successful innovation form our keynote speaker Deborah C. Stephens. No typical conference would have each of these types of speakers or presenters. This was truly a great day. And I for one, and extremely proud to have been a part of it.
Today I have a true Shower Musing… My shower at home has two shower heads on opposing walls. While this will upset water conservationists, I admit to loving to use both at the same time. It’s a wonderful feeling to have so much water coming from two directions and totally envelope me. It’s impossible to tell where one starts and the other stops, and I love that.
This morning after my run I jumped in the shower (typically a cool shower to help me cool down). But one shower was turned on hot and the other turned on cold. My first reaction was to adjust them to be the same temperature, but then I decided not to. I adjusted the angle of the heads so that the hot shower was running on my legs (relaxing my tired muscles) and the cold shower was running on my head and shoulders (helping me to stop sweating). It was a very different feeling from my typical experience. The showers didn’t blend together at all. I was continually aware of each and the unique value that it provided. It was if each stream of water was fighting with the other to get my attention.
The analogy that came to my mind was the teams that we surround ourselves with at work. Our natural inclination is to hire a bunch of like-minded (warm water) people that fit our existing culture. Just like the shower, it is often hard to see where one individual’s contribution starts and another person’s ends. That is wonderful if quick unity is the primary goal. But effective innovation is born from conflict and difference. It is at the intersection of where the hot and cold water meet.
How diverse is your team? Do you have different temperatures coming together in one setting? Are you aware of the strengths and opinions that each person brings or have you settled for a comfortable environment where every situation and conversation feels the same? If you want to be an innovative company, surround yourself with diversity, and value the unique opinions and perspectives that surface. Avoid the temptation to achieve homogenization and the “simplicity” that brings. Just like the shower, it will feel strange at first, but you can come to appreciate the value that each player brings.
I live near Indianapolis, and all the news today is about the release of Peyton Manning from the Colts. Twitter and Facebook posts are filled with opinions and consolations. Most people saw this coming, but to look at the social media pages, you’d think this was a shock to everyone.
In glancing through the posts, I’ve noticed something unexpected, yet very interesting. People seem to be falling into one of two distinct camps on this topic. There are those that think Colt’s owner Jim Irsay is an idiot, and those that think that letting Peyton go (while saddening) was inevitable. As I started to look at who was writing what (and knowing the backstory of many of those people) I started to see a correlation between their own lives and what they were writing.
One of the most notable “Irsay is an idiot” contributors was until recently one of the largest home builders in the city. His comment was “Why would you ever let a proven winner go…?”. Interestingly enough, this man’s company has gone into bankruptcy in the last year and is no longer around. He himself had a “proven winner” in the form of a business model in this city… until the recession hit. Even in the midst of the recession, he was passionately pursuing the largest development of his career. Unfortunately, the world changed around him (in this case the economy). What had always worked so well for him in the past was unable to sustain him in the present. The sad result is that a good man and a good company went under. Many of the other posters would fall into a similar (though less extreme) scenario. ”You don’t let go of a winning approach”. ”You don’t fix what’s not broken”. You see it in their posts and you see it in their lives.
The other camp also fondly remembered and honored the past. But they recognize that the situation has changed and it is time to move forward. The Colts are not the Super Bowl team of a few years ago, they are admittedly in a rebuilding scenario. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to spend all of the team’s salary cap on bringing back a single player that will be rendered ineffective because of the lack of talent surrounding him. Some of the people in this camp have proven to be highly resilient – even successful in spite of life’s circumstances.
In my mind, this is a perfect analogy that reflects many of the companies in our country today. Highly innovative companies are continually rei
nventing themselves and pursuing their goals in bold new ways. Ultra-conservative companies continue to hold onto tradition, and attempt to cost-reduce their way to success. This worked in the 1990′s. But it doesn’t work in 2012. Yes we should honor the past. We should take time to celebrate those that helped us in our past successes. But we cannot afford to stay there as the world changes around us. Innovation is the key to survival. That’s true for the Colts, and that’s true for our businesses.
I think that effective new product innovation is a result of empathizing with the customer. Traditional market research merely allows you to sympathize with them, and that often falls short. Let me explain. There is a key difference in these two words. When you sympathize with a person, you observe them as a third party and feel sorry that they are experiencing some degree of pain. However, when you empathize, you put yourself in their shoes to the point that you can actually feel their pain yourself.
Here’s an example. When you get survey feedback or review a focus group report you see prioritized data on what consumers think and feel. Sympathetic design would have you start at the top of the list and develop solutions for the top pains that have been identified. If something is “hard to hold”, then make it easier to hold. If it’s “too heavy”, then make it lighter weight. It seems very straight forward. Let’s contrast this with empathetic design. Instead of reading reports, you spend time face to face with your customer watching them interact with your product. You may still hear them say it’s “hard to hold”, but upon closer observation you come to realize that they’re not holding it as it was designed to be held. While the proper usage seems obvious to you (as the maker of the product), it is clearly not intuitive to the end user. The manner in which they hold it also makes the product feel much heavier than it ever should have. Instead of redesigning the product to make it “easier” and “lighter”, you focus on the overall design of the product to make it more obvious in terms of it’s intended usage. Suddenly the weight becomes a non-issue and the improved design can greatly increase consumer satisfaction.
Here’s another real-life example. We once worked with a client to develop a new line of outdoor, patio heaters. Over the course of the project, we learned (empathetically) that consumers often purchased these products for entertaining purposes, more than for personal comfort. In fact, during the validation phase, we observed that people considered our prototypes as serving the role of “outdoor decor” or “furniture” as much as the role of heater. There was a high degree of excitement toward the product and early versions won several design awards. The problem came when the company took the product to retail. Instead of using an empathetic argument when negotiating pricing, they fell back into their traditional sympathetic mindset (features and cost). The retail buyer said that the cost for these products was too high for a patio heater (and all existing market data would agree with this). In order to secure placement, the company cost reduced the product to hit the retail demands. The resulting product had a much “cheaper” feel to it which immediately took it out of the decor and furniture mode from the consumers’ perspective. A year later and this award-winning product was off the market. What had been envisioned was never actually realized.
Could an empathetic approach have saved this product? Even if you have an empathetic view of the consumer, how could you help others in the distribution chain share this vision?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one.
It’s commonly believed that the most innovative companies are those that have the best original ideas. I don’t believe that. If there was some way to formally test this, I would. I imagine it would look something like this. Choose ten well-established companies and give each of them an idea that would change their industry. Put no strings on this idea, no obligations no risk of lawsuit (okay we’re suspending believability at this point, but stay with me). Literally give each of them the holy grail of new ideas. What do you think would happen?
My guess is this:
- Four of the companies would table the idea, labeling it as a long-term objective that they could pursue once their near term (hopelessly incremental) ideas have been implemented. The idea would never surface again
- Three of the companies would indefinitely bat the idea around because they can’t decide which department should champion the idea
- Two would reject the idea outright because they would not have the current distribution network to get the product to market
- The final company would pursue the idea, but abandon it once they hit the first internal obstacle during the development process
The winners have been announced for the upcoming Indiana Innovation Awards. In preparation for the upcoming ceremony on Sept. 26, we have been traveling to the offices of the winning companies to capture video that will be shown during the evening. The winners range from non-profits to huge corporations to pure start up enterprises. One fact fascinates me on this. Regardless of the size of the company, the winning innovation came out of a small group of people that had a dedicated project leader. Delta Faucet won with their highly successful touch faucet and Whirlpool Corporation won with a highly innovative new Side by Side Refrigerator. Both of these mega-companies have literally hundreds of employees at their disposal. However, when we went to do the interviews, it was a handful of people that came forward to be interviewed. While the approval process and downstream portion of the projects involved a multitude of support functions, the core of each product came from a small entrepreneurial team. In this regard, the culture and style of these groups was amazingly like their counterparts in the smaller companies (that may only have 4-5 employees). Both companies alluded to the fact that for portions of their projects they needed to “fly under the radar” to keep the project moving smoothly and efficiently. In some instances they had to “re-interpret” corporate policies and processes to be effective. Bottom line, it took an individual willing to take some risks and stick their neck out for something they believe in. They spoke of being innovative in spite of the large company wrapped around them.
The small firms we talked with spoke of “doing what it took” to be successful. Be it all night white board sessions, or beer and pizza infused brainstorming efforts, they came up with ideas that were worthy of winning as well. They spoke longingly of big companies and the resources available to them. ”If only we had…” was not an uncommon mantra. In reality, it was once again a leader with a vision that led to their success.
Just an amusing observation. The big guys carve out groups to act like start ups. The start ups, long to be big guys. It seems to me that aptitude, determination and leadership were far more important to successful innovation than the size of the organization from which it came.
In the past few years, we have interviewed literally hundreds of consumers about a variety of products and services. Some of my favorite interviews take place with couples. I’m convinced you get the most “truthful” feedback when you interview two people (in relationship) as opposed to just one. It’s not that anyone is trying to be deceitful, but people don’t always see themselves (or their own behavior) in the truest of light. They portray themselves in an idealized manner, either consciously or not. When we do the same interview with a consumer and their partner, discrepancies will often be called into the light.
Just yesterday we were interviewing a couple about their past purchases of a new product and it’s ongoing usage. The outspoken husband was telling us in great detail about how he uses a given product. I noticed his wife making some subtle reactions, but remaining quiet. Before long, she couldn’t contain herself any longer, and jumped right into the conversation. ”That’s not at all what you do”, she said. Then she went on to give her perspective on his product usage. Naturally, this led to quite a debate between the two of them. When the discussion finally wound down, they both agreed that the actual behavior was somewhere between what either of them recalled on their own.
This illustrates two points. First, the best path to consumer understanding is real time, in-context observation. However, this is not always possible or practical. The second point is, people don’t always see themselves in a true light. Having another on hand to interact with can bring you closer to reality.