Welcome guest blogger and Friend of Bauman (FOB), Steve Rivkin of Rivkin & Associates, LLC. This article is the first 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.
New ideas are fragile little darlings, which require, simply, “tough love” – especially if they are to see the light of implementation and success. So you should always address them from the point of view of the customer and the market. Specifically, you should ask four “tough love” questions that will help navigate a fledgling idea from an inspiration to an innovation. Here’s a look at the first of those four questions:
1. Does it fulfill a specific need?
In the musical Ain’t Misbehaving’, Nell Carter sang this immortal Fats Waller line: “Find out what they like, and how they like it, and let ‘em have it just that way!” Well, if the need is real, and buyers perceive your idea as fulfilling that need, you’re halfway home.
- Leopoldo Fernandez Pujals sensed Spain’s growing appetite for fast food as more women began entering the workforce there. So this Cuban-American marketer borrowed the home delivery concept of Domino’s Pizza and adapted it for Spain. He invested $80,000 to start a pizza delivery service in Madrid. Now, TelePizza boasts 600 outlets in Spain, and 400 more in other countries.
- In the U.S., consumers agitated for years for fast-food meals that have less fat but still taste good. Impossible? Not for a chain like Subway. And not for a handful of fledgling chains that focus on healthy food served quickly at budget prices. We’re not talking sprouts and tofu here. We’re talking meatless sloppy joes, 99% fat-free sirloin burgers with air-baked fries, rice and noodle bowls, fruit smoothies.
- Consumers also complained that potato chip bags were hard to rip open, and that a jagged tear would send chips spewing in all directions. (And you thought there was anguish in your life!) So snack giant Frito-Lay and their packaging technologists initiated a new bagging process that cut by 70% the amount of force required to open the bags.
These examples suggest that Fats Waller was a marketing guru as well as a splendid songsmith. Because for TelePizza, Subway and Frito-Lay, the need they identified was real, and buyers perceived their idea as fulfilling that need.
But if the need is not real …
- Dow Chemical introduced Dowtherm 209, a “next-generation” antifreeze coolant that was billed as doing no harm if it leaked into the crankcase. And by the way, it cost twice as much as old-generation coolants. The trouble was that conventional coolants hardly ever leaked into the engine. Why pay twice as much to solve a non-existent problem? Most people didn’t.
Check back next week for question number two: Is it really an improvement over what already exists?