Peter Drucker, in his book, Discipline of Innovation, identified several principles to lead successful design and implementation efforts. The concepts are valuable for any business or non profit considering products and services to enhance their current offerings and gain market share.
1. Analyze All Opportunity Sources.
There is value in looking for as many opportunities as possible for new product or service offerings before settling on a single focus. Brainstorming and investigating alternative opportunities tends to create additional ideas leading to an even better final decision. The analysis considers return on investment (ROI) using criteria such as project costs, estimated design and production time, personnel competencies and market receptivity required for the initiative.
2. Go Out, Look, Ask and Listen.
There can be a temptation to believe the engineering/marketing analysis serves needed investigation to begin design work. In a Wikipedia report, Ford’s engineers created an innovative auto design that was certain to appeal to mass markets. The new model was named in honor of Henry Ford’s son. After careful design and a well-planned marketing roll out in 1957 this new model was discontinued in 1959 reportedly due to its name and reliability problems. The car was the Edsel. Ford executives observed later, “The aim was right but the target moved.”
Another automaker assigned a team of employees to live in California for two years. Their assignment was to drive a wide variety of vehicles and travel with California drivers to observe and define needs and preferences. Upon return to headquarters two years later this team collaborated with corporate engineering to develop a new model car for the US market. The car was the Toyota Camry.
The lesson is obvious. Ford marketing thought they understood the marketplace and designed accordingly. Toyota understood the importance of observing their target market, asking potential customers their ideas for improving existing vehicles, noting what they heard and designing accordingly.
3. Simple and Focused.
Keeping the final design simple and focused on market criteria is critical for building a quality product. Ford learned it’s lesson and took a different approach when designing their next new model offering. Before moving from design to build the concept was entered in an intramural design contest instigated by Lee Iacocca. The winning design was based on use of familiar but simple components and the name was based on research and comparison with public impressions. The new model became known as the Ford Mustang!
4. Aim to be Standard Setter
Whatever your new product is be certain it is of such a quality as to capture the market. It is not good enough to be first with a new idea. Thomas Edison created the first phonograph that caught the attention of the market. It was an immediate success; however, a competitor quickly offered another version that was easier to use and possessed higher sound quality. Edison was then faced with the decision to modify and catch up or refocus on other opportunities.
Apple’s design of the ipod, ipad and iphone all embrace the standard setter and simple and focused principles. The designs are simple but elegant, the parts are easily installed and use of the products is simple to the point of nearly being intuitive. Much time and deliberation was involved in creating revolutionary products that challenge competitors to meet the high standards of quality in product design and ease of use.
Intel, a microchip manufacturer created a process for maintaining their position as standard setter in their marketplace. Each year a multi-disciplinary team consisting of engineers, accountants and marketing specialists visit customers such as IBM, Microsoft and Nokia. The team identifies upcoming client initiatives and requirements. Many of these requirements are engineered into the next generation of microchips. However, when completing their design, the team leaves certain features out of the upcoming release to be included in the subsequent year’s release. The strategy has kept the company one step ahead of its competitors and maintaining a standard for others to strive to meet.
5. Not Genius
We can all think of individuals such as Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Wright Brothers, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and many other truly gifted persons who pioneered innovations that have changed our lives and the world. However even those individuals relied on teams of people with requisite skills and boatloads of common sense to create designs and plans for building new products and services. Even these visionaries gathered people around them and shared their ideas while engaging them in the creative side of new designs.
People with insight, knowledge and talent come in all walks of life. We worked with a company who wanted to make major changes in the manner in which work was performed and technology was used in production. Executives were identifying people in their organization to participate on the innovation team. The consultant inquired about someone in the production area responsible for moving product around the work area. Executives explained the individual was not motivated and had limited knowledge of the operation. In talking with this individual we learned he had never been asked to do anything other than his current duties but on his personal time served as Mayor of a neighboring community!
An executive with another client expressed delight when attending a design team meeting to hear an hourly employee explain why one idea could work but another could present difficulties for their clients! These design members were all geniuses when it came to their work and work processes.
6. Requires Hard, Focused, Purposeful Work
I doubt you would find an inventor who would say that his/her success came easily and the first idea was worth a million dollars. There are stories of how Silicon Valley shifted from designing products to save the world to quickly designing software to be flipped for quick wealth.
Regardless of motivation, whether you are creating a web site, designing a new application, creating a new product release or any other effort to innovate pulls the innovators into total engagement. Thomas Edison lived and worked in his facility even though his home was next door. Steve Jobs along with any client I have served including myself will have inspirations day and night. Continuing to enhance the idea and bring it to life will have you leaping out of bed late at night to record your next great idea or work more on your design. Expect to spend all hours of your day researching and developing your product launch plan and systems to support the idea you have successfully introduced to the market.
Determining required talent is part intuition and part deliberation once the focus on new organization, product or service has been agreed upon. It is not at all unusual for talent requirements to change as the innovation project is underway. We were asked to recruit electrical engineers for a company producing and marketing fish finding equipment. Our client completed a discovery process using focus groups with fishing professionals and hobbyists. The focus group data, aligned with the principle Going Out, Looking, Asking and Listening, indicated a need to completely innovate their fish finding products to remain competitive in their market. It became clear to our client that not only electrical engineers but also mechanical engineers would be required for a complete re-engineering of their product lines.