Welcome guest blogger and Friend of Bauman (FOB), Steve Rivkin of Rivkin & Associates, LLC. This article is the third in a four-part series on innovation.
New ideas are the true “capital” in capitalism. Because as management maestro Peter Drucker observed years ago in The Age of Discontinuity, “Every product, every process, every technology, every market eventually becomes old.” Why then do most new ideas, and most new products, die a quick death? Why does so much well-intentioned effort run off the road?
Our answer is that senior managers often fail to ask the right questions as new ideas percolate through their companies.
Here’s a look at the third of those four questions:
3. Is it easier to use than what already exists?
People resist that which is confusing, and cherish that which is simple. Basically, we all want to push a button and watch it work.
- In Watsonville, California, the GraniteRock Company sells rock and sand to local contractors. Renting a truck to move large quantities of construction material can cost contractors a dollar or more a minute, so time is important. What would speed things up and make the job easier? The company may be 100 years old, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be quick and nimble. GraniteRock developed an automated loading system similar to a bank ATM machine. It accepts an identification card, releases the materials, and prints a receipt. Loading time used to be 24 minutes. Now contractors can rock and roll in only seven minutes. (Innovation may be contagious. Is it a coincidence that GraniteRock has been named multiple times to Fortune Magazine’s “Best Companies to Work For?”)
- Starkist Tuna knows that consumers love convenience. Plastic pouch versions of its tuna – very easy to open, and with a long shelf life – quickly captured 5% of the multi-billion dollar tuna market.
- After two years and 400 attempts, researchers at Oklahoma State University have developed – trumpets, please – sliced peanut butter. This may not rank up there with stem cell research, but it sure rings the bell on “easier to use.” It’s a 4-inch-square, 120-calorie slice of peanut butter in a cellophane wrapper. Kids can plop it onto bread like a slice of cheese. (We assume the lads in the lab are now at work on sliced jelly.)
Check back next week for question number four: Do you have a competitive point of difference?