May 20, 2011

Don't Fix Your Customers' Problems Too Quickly!

My sister and I enjoyed "mining for gold" every summer when we went with our grandmother to Highlands, NC. We scooped out a sizable amount of dirt, put it in our sifting pan, and carefully sifted through searching for tiny flakes of gold. When your customers complain, when problems are presented to you, then you have an opportunity to not simply improve but, more so, to sift through and find an idea for a disruptive product/service.

When customers' have problems there are three levels of reaction:

Level One: Quickly and professionally listen to the customer and solve his problem

Level Two: Level One done, learn from the experience -- identify areas of opportunity and make improvements

Level Three: Level One and Two done, dig deeper. Fly out to the customers' factory, fly her out to you, go to the retail store, you and the team meet her for lunch, crawl inside his head and never stop asking "Why?"

The Best Question, Ever!

Do this today: find a colleague, buy her lunch, and ask her "Why?" the product/service you offer is valuable. Then ask her "Why?" 10 more times. You might end up at the core pain point that launched the idea for your service/product; or you might learn her perspective on the core pain point; or you might invent a new disruptive product!

Do this sometime soon: the same exercise above with a customer instead of a colleague.

"You know my methods, Watson."

In order to mine our customers' problems for disruptive ideas we have to act like Sherlock Holmes, implementing every investigative method we know to reach into the core of the matter.

My iPhone USB Cable is Broken

It's been chewed up and spit out and booed off stage; I need a new cable. I walk into the Apple Store to buy one. I go to the counter to purchase it. No one asks me "Why?" I need a new cable. If they did, I would say: "My old one is torn." Then someone should ask me "Why?" again. I'd say: "Because I was using it in my car and pulled/twisted it often." Then someone should ask me "Why?" once more. I'd say: "Because I move my iPhone all over the place when I'm in my car (to my left ear, to my right ear, on the seat next to me, in the console between seats, to my friend sitting next to me, to his ear, etc.); and when I'm in my car, my iPhone is always plugged in."

Maybe I should buy a "coiled cable" for my car. Or maybe Apple should figure out how to charge my iPhone wirelessly while I am using the phone in my car. "Wireless" charging already exists to a degree -- you can place your phone on a pad, but I want it to charge while I'm using it! (How has the pad solved my core issue? It hasn't and that's why it wasn't a disruptive product when introduced in 2009.)

Read this article:

Apple is looking into wireless charging, but the focus at this time appears to be on placing the phone onto a pad. This does not solve my core problem; this is not significantly disruptive. But what gets me really excited is what I read at the end of the article: solar-based charging! So I never have to plug in at night? I don't have to plug in when I get in the car? I don't need cables ever again?!

You just disrupted my world, Apple, and I'm going to pay you money for it.

Don't Fix Your Customers' Problems Too Quickly

Quick response to customer issues is highly important, of course. But don't "fix" the problem so quickly that you miss the disruptive idea. Become your company's/industry's greatest detective; there is gold at the heart of every customer issue.

May 14, 2011

Individual Collaboration = The Key to Disruptive Design

Companies that engage in "individual collaboration" are the disruption leaders.

Apple + AT&T

Apple designed the iPhone in collaboration with AT&T, but did not use a "design by committee" approach. The design of the phone belonged completely to Apple. The two partners focused on what each does best in order to create a single product/service for the consumer.

Google + Ford

Google and Ford are collaborating to produce a potentially disruptive product. A key to success will be that each partner must allow the other to "own" his/her piece = individual collaboration. Partners must be careful to not get in the way of disruption. Read more about the project here:

iPhone + Wallet + Keys

As mentioned in my previous post, I carry too much in my pockets. I just want to carry one thing: an iPhone that will also unlock/start my car and that will serve as a credit card. Apple, Ford, Visa and some smaller, specialized vendors (example: Firethorn) could collaborate on this project. Their success would, in part, depend upon how well each partner allows the others to fully "own" design decisions around his/her piece = individual collaboration.

Individual + Collaboration -- Let's Break It Down

Collaboration is key to disruptive design because leading organizations are expert specialists. The best organizations do one thing better than anyone. (Note: I didn't say the best organizations only produce one product. At the core of all their products is an organization's core value, differentiator, speciality -- whatever you want to call it.) In order to develop disruptive products -- products that reach far enough beyond anything the market currently offers -- companies must innovate/design beyond their own capabilities. A Google/Ford collaboration brings together two disruption leaders with two core specialities that, when combined, could lead to an entirely new disruptive product.

Individual is key to disruptive design because leading organizations are expert specialists. It's key that organizations come together, but it is just as key that they set parameters/structure around their collaboration. If one of the partners dominates design then the collaboration is not able to realize its full value-creation potential. Each partner must fully own his/her piece and be given the freedom (encouraged, even!) to drive disruptive design.

Why does this often not happen? Two reasons...

1. There is almost always a more dominant partner

2. The partners that are collaborating are more focused on deadlines and producing a product than they are on allowing the space and time to get it right. For example, consider the Apple + Ford + Visa collaboration suggested above: Let's say that Apple designs something highly disruptive/innovative but Visa reviews it and determines that functionally it will not fit with Visa's piece of the puzzle. Visa asks Apple to make adjustments in order to get the team to a market-ready product. The product might be ready to go to market, but it has possibly lost a key element of its disruptive design -- and it was for disruption that the three companies began working together (not simply to produce another product)!

What Does This Mean for Your Organization?

1. As we often talk about, first know who you are. What is your core speciality?

2. Identify a partner or two whose core specialities could compliment yours.

3. Schedule brainstorming sessions once per quarter (or month!) with them. Make it fun. Bring in food. Spend the day thinking disruptive thoughts!

4. When one of those sessions leads to a wonderfully disruptive idea, individually collaborate!

May 10, 2011

How Should You React to Disruption? Pause, Listen, Know Who You Are, and Innovate Beyond!

Two ways your organization might be hit by disruption:

1. A competitor introduces a disruptive product
2. Macro forces create a disruptive environment

When either of these occur, the wrong thing to do is to allow it to disrupt what you are doing! Will you need to respond? Probably. But most companies' response is:

- Too quick
- Void of market validation
- Non-disruptive

When a competitor introduces a disruptive product, do these three things:

1. Pause and listen -- take a breath, it's going to be OK. Listen to what end-users are saying about the competitor's disruptive product. Learn.

2. Reevaluate who you are -- this is key because the disruptive product will cause you to question your identity as an organization. You must decide (big decision-making time!) if you believe in who you are or if your core message/mission must change.

3. Based on who you are, innovate beyond the competitor's disruptive product. There will always be another disruptive product; it will be yours if you innovate beyond.

What If I Only Have One Pocket?!

Apple owns the touch screen market. For various reasons, Apple decided to go bigger rather than smaller after the iPhone to the iPad. Guess what? Now the consumer carries an iPhone, iPad, set of car keys and a wallet wherever he/she goes. I don't want to carry all these things around -- I want one device that is my iPhone, car keys and wallet all in one. Invent that and people will buy it. That's innovating beyond.

When macro forces create a disruptive environment do these three things:

1. Pause and listen. What do the new government regulations, economic policies, shifting demographics mean for your organization? You can't win the game if you don't understand the rules better than anyone. And please, please do not try to play the game before fully understanding the rules.

2. Communicate with the infantry. When major macro forces hit an industry, often companies will think that the generals will determine whether or not the company will successfully navigate through the disruptive environment. Not true. The "boots on the ground" will determine your future. Help them understand the macro forces and -- this is KEY -- ask the infantry what they think about these forces: how should the company respond? Given the new rules, what is the best play?

3. Don't overreact. Did the macro forces change your customer? Did the forces change the customer pain points? Has the competitive landscape significantly changed? There is a good chance that you don't need to change who you are and do not need to significantly change what you do -- assuming you were successful before the disruptive macro forces hit. Overreaction could mean that you go from market leader to scrambling to figure out how you got so far off track and fell behind your competition. Don't allow the macro forces to cause you to lose your identity.

Ford's Reaction to Disruptive Macro Forces

Ford faced some disruptive macro forces in recent years. It appears to me that they paused and listened. I wouldn't be surprised if the generals spent a lot of time communicating with the infantry. And, most importantly, they did not overreact. Ford knew who they were and with impressive resolution Ford determined to build a cutting-edge brand that could compete with Honda and Toyota. Go to and you will see the front page is all about Ford's three cars that get 40MPG.

Disruption will happen. If you aren't the one causing it, then you must be prepared to appropriately respond to it. Pause, listen, know who you are, and innovate beyond.

May 7, 2011

You say "Ubiquity", I say "Opportunity" -- Baking Cakes and Discussing Algorithms with My 6-Year-Old

It is no longer: "He/she who has the data has the power."
Instead, it is: "He/she who synthesizes the data has the power."

In a world in which data/information is ubiquitous, the company that can...

1. Identify the important data
2. Synthesize it across a number (think: 10,000) of layers

...will redefine customer norms/expectations in your industry.

One thing we can be certain of: ubiquity will grow in perpetuity. If everyone has access to everything, then how can a company distinguish itself? How can a company add value if there is seemlingly nothing to add?

Bake Me a Cake as Fast as You Can

People made good cakes during the first half of the 20th century.

People made better cakes during the second half of the 20th century.

Why? Trader Joes, Whole Foods, Costco, and Kroger. Ubiquity = opportunity! But only for those who know how to...

1. Identify
2. Synthesize

...the best blend of the tens of thousands of available ingredients.

"Dad, what's an algorithm?"

Be worried if your 6-year-old is not asking you this. She needs to get on the ball and in the game! Truth be told, my 6-year-old hasn't asked me this question -- yet. But she does love using algorithms. Her favorite is Google's, mainly because she loves searching for the "best ice cream _______" with the underscore being whichever city we happen to be living in or visiting at the time.

What is Google? What is the product? No, it is not the algorithm, just like Coca-Cola's product is not sugar water in a can. Google's product is a service -- it helps you find the information you want/need as quickly as possible. Google's future/power lies in its ability to place a bit in the mouth of ubiquitous information and steer it. Google's product is simplicity -- it's an Advil to cure the throbbing headache of a ubiquitous world.


If you want to develop a disruptive product:

1. Collect a ton of information (Trader Joes, Whole Foods, Costco & Kroger)
2. Identify the information that matters (Pull ingredients off the shelf)
3. Synthesize the information (Experiment -- 2 teaspoons of this, 1 cup of that)

You just baked a cake that will change your world, dominate your industry, and leave your customers hungry for more.