Where to Start? Always Start With Customers!

March 11, 2009 · Posted in business, economics, entrepreneurship, innovation, mindset · Comment 

I recently taught a short introduction to Predictive Innovation class for a group of design students at Eastern Michigan University (EMU). One of the students listed his biggest problem as, “not knowing where to start.” He had a product idea and hundreds of ways to approach it but he didn’t know how to begin to get it to market.

I must apologize to that student because I did not clearly answer his question. The correct answer of where to start is always, “Start With Customers!”

Outcome diagram the customers’ desires. Find the most pressing must be satisfied outcome then base your product and marketing around that desire. Make sure there are enough customers you can reach and who will pay for the product or service you plan to offer. If you can, pre-sell your product to them. Use their up front commitment to get financing to develop the product. That might mean actually having them pay or it might mean showing the width and depth of demand to investors.

Figure out what products the customers already own or use and try to use those as resources to develop your product. If they already own items that perform 80% of the tasks then its much easier for you to be an add-on rather than reinventing the wheel. For instance if they have a laptop with a USB connector then you can get power for your device from their laptop battery. Or you can use the keyboard and screen of their laptop to see and change settings in your small USB device.

Figure out all the desires that your product or future or generations of your product could satisfy. Look at the lifetime value of the customer relationship.

If you’re planning to partner with another company to get your product to market they are your customers as much as the end consumer. Draw the outcome diagram for all the desires related to buying and selling your product. Make sure you satisfy those outcomes.

The particulars of manufacturing or a design alternative over another are just details. The most important thing to remember, “Start With Customers.”

Compact Fluorescent Bulb Recycling

January 3, 2009 · Posted in innovation, problem solving · Comment 

I volunteer at AllExperts.com. One of the questions I received makes an interesting example. This is not a complete OutCompete analysis, just a very fast list of suggestions.

Question:

Retailers have implemented programs for the safe disposal of compact fluorescent bulbs. However the current process requires the involvement of an store employee. I would like to design a system which does not require the involvement of an employee. My assumption right now is:

  1. The system is for compact fluorescent lamps, medium base type bulbs.
  2. The system that can accommodate at least 200 CFL’s before needing to be emptied.
  3. The system would reward the customer for their effort.

I would like your advice on this system, on how to design it and what reward I should consider. Could you also suggest a website which will provide me information for my design system.

Thank you.

Answer

The OutCompete Predictive Innovation Method works best if we can work with a subject matter expert to verify the technical aspects of ideas.

The Predictive Innovation Method follows these steps:

  1. Create “Desire Statement”
  2. Convert Desire Statement into on Outcome diagram
  3. Expand each of the Outcomes into their 7 elements types
  4. Using the Alternatives Grid to multiply those 7 types by the 15 alternatives to reveal a minimum of 105 potential innovations.

Since I am not exactly a subject matter expert on recycling mercury I’ll focus on one aspect that I was able to find information about.

The main problem with the mercury in a CFL is breathing in vapor or dust from broken bulbs. As long as they are not broken there isn’t any problem.

http://www.energystar.gov/ia/partners/promotions/change_light/downloads/Fact_Sheet_Mercury.pdf

Video of mercury evaporating

http://www.michigan.gov/mdch/0,1607,7-132-2945_5105_47868-181553–,00.html

So the primary goal of collecting CFLs is making the mercury vapor safe to people. Here are a few approaches.

  • Prevent the vapor from being released.
  • Don’t break the bulbs
  • Contain the vapor if broken
  • Keep vapor away from people
  • Make the vapor safe

Two ideas come to mind. Have a single container to hold many bulbs air tight

  • pull air in and vent safely outside
  • pull air in through and filter air inside container
  • submerge the bulbs in a liquid that mercury vapor is heavier than so it collects on the bottom and is safely contained
  • Contain each bulb, put each bulb in an airtight bag so it doesn’t matter if the bulb breaks. This material would have to be easy to recycle with the rest of the bulb

This company has a filter for the vapor, but you could probably be OK just venting it outside.

http://www.ohiolumex.com/product/vapor_filter.shtml

The basic problem with getting people to recycle is making the effort more valuable than throwing the item away in the regular garbage. You can do this by appealing to their emotions or by actually making it easier. You will likely need to do both.

Since CFL are suppose to last a long time the purchase is long removed from the disposal. However people usually replace a bulb the instant one stops working. If they have bulbs on hand it is probably in some type of safe container to prevent it from being broken. If this could serve as a safe recycling container it would be effective.

Alternatively the person will need to go to the store to get a new bulb. This is when to prompt for recycling the old bulb.

  • give the consumers something for bringing bulbs in, such as a discount on new bulbs
  • eliminate another problem by bringing the bulbs in
  • provide a container to store the bulbs until returned
  • have a deposit similar to the $0.10 bottle deposit in Michigan (this practically eliminated that type of pollution)

Summary

With this information it would be easy to find and affordable solution to the problem. You’ll also notice that there are several possibilities for future innovation or product improvements. For instance combining the ideas :

  • provide a container to store the bulbs until returned
  • Contain each bulb, put each bulb in an airtight bag so it doesn’t matter if the bulb breaks. This material would have to be easy to recycle with the rest of the bulb

These two outcomes can be achieved at the same time.

Revealing Emerging Expectations, the most important step of innovation.

February 12, 2008 · Posted in innovation, strategy · 1 Comment 

Emerging expectations are the things customers will start to demand next. These are features, benefits, and values current products are missing but customers haven’t started demanding yet. When customers realize these desires can be met they will demand it from all future products. It’s essential to have something ready when that happens or you will lose customers.

Working on things customers are already asking for puts you in a race with others. If you try to meet existing desires you are in a race against time. Even if you make it to market first, your advantage will quickly disappear. Others will develop competing products, if they haven’t already been working on them. If you don’t have the next product ready your innovation will be overwhelmed with copycats that make improvements on your design.

Revealing emerging expectations allows you to work two steps ahead so you always have the next great thing perfected and ready to release when the demand is strongest and profits are greatest. Plus if you can accurately predict the future innovations you will be able to overwhelm competitors with improvements faster and with less expense than they can copy you. You get ahead, stay ahead, and increase your lead.

Just because you can make it doesn’t mean customers will want it. To get the best return on investment you need to choose the innovations customers will do anything to get. And even if it’s something customers want it doesn’t mean its right for you to sell. So the innovation system you use must reveal a large selection emerging expectations, preferably all, and provide a way for you to compare and rank them in order of value to you.
Many people can think of pie in the sky “futuristic” products. Science fiction is full of those types of ideas. Some of those sci-fi products actually do become real products and are successful. The question is, when? Absolutely predicting the future is impossible but understanding the land marks to watch for gives you the information to plan your actions. If a new product depends on other developments then you should wait for those to be released before releasing yours. You can have everything ready to go and jump into the market at the exact right time. You maximize profits and minimize risk. A complete innovation system shows you those land marks with enough lead time to act.

Revealing the emerging expectations is what makes the OutCompete Predictive Innovation Method predictive and not just another feel good innovation system. The way it does this is by using certain laws of systems that apply to every system. Understanding that every system must follow certain laws allows you to see which things will become “must have innovations” and the order it will occur.

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