Is your company (regardless of size), eager to become more innovative? Phil McKinney, author of the new book, “Beyond The Obvious: Killer Questions That Spark Game-Changing Innovation,” leads the way.
McKinney is an innovation expert who has served as Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for major technology companies and also leads innovation boot camps.
He emphasizes that true innovation is hard work; and is open to anyone willing to commit to the process (and it is a process).
Once you’ve done the preliminary research regarding innovation in relation to your industry, you can use the following five Killer Questions to help define your potential customer base:
1. Who does not use my product because of my assumptions about their skill or ability?
McKinney acknowledges that the majority of the world’s population doesn’t own a personal computer. He and his team, while wanting to capture this vast, future market share, made certain assumptions about their needs.
Initially, they thought building a cheap PC would suffice. But, further research revealed that the bulk of Third World citizens couldn’t read or write in their own language, let alone English. A standard keyboard interface wouldn’t apply.
Once they realized that this population mainly wanted simplicity and relevancy (the ability to communicate with their friends and family, and educate their children), they designed a successful PC for that demographic.
2. Who does not understand how to use my product because it has too few or too many features or functions?
McKinney describes a friend’s teenage daughter, eager to learn how to sew. Her mother had been an avid seamstress, having mastered the craft on an old, heavy iron Singer. The machine performed two functions: sew a straight stitch front and in reverse.
The daughter bought a new high tech machine with various capabilities. The machine’s endless options confused both her and her mother. Ultimately, they resorted to using the mother’s old, simple Singer.
“Sometimes innovation is less about adding functionality than it is about providing the essentials of what an individual needs,” says McKinney. Meaningful breakthroughs can occur upon realizing that your customer might be comfortable with less, not more. Often, you can actually charge more for less if the simplicity and ease-of-use outweighs complex and unnecessary features.
3. What are the unanticipated uses of my product?
“Not all interesting discoveries have an obvious application,” says McKinney. “If you believe you have something, but you’re not sure what exactly it’s going to be good for, don’t give up.” Many innovations remained in labs for years until they were matched to a product.
Teflon was invented in 1938 but wasn’t used as pan coating until 1954. It took five years for Post-it notes to garner support and discover its profitable use. If an idea is new, interesting and has unique properties, you’ll find a use for it, along with customers who’ll want to buy the end product. Be patient. It can take a while before the customer need emerges.
4. Who do I not want to use my product now, but may want to use in the future?
The early days of Internet service was mainly dial-up; and billed by the minute. Two kinds of customers quickly emerged. The majority logged on briefly on a daily basis to check their email or read a brief article; then exited. The other group logged on for hours or days at a time, accumulating exorbitant bills.
Savvy Internet companies switched from pay-per-minute to flat-rate fee billing. The new model addressed both types of customers. It kept high usage patrons from running up unmanageable bills (undesirable customers) by enjoying a flat rate. The low-usage customers also benefited by removing the fear of the unknown-their exact monthly fee.
Customers who love what you do are worth keeping. If what you see as abuse is actually foresight (being ahead of the curve), a future revenue stream may appear. Devise a way to separate out this usage, give it its own program and monetize it.
5. Who am I not selling to because I think they can’t or won’t pay for my product?
“Never kill an idea because you assume your customer can’t afford it,” says McKinney. ” If the value the product brings to their life justifies the cost, they will find a way to make the purchase.”
Aim first to make your product relevant, then affordable.
In many cases the customer isn’t evaluating the perceived worth of your product solely on price, but more on value. Price and value are not the same thing.
People will find a way to pay for the things that are important to them and important is subjective.
Consider the organic food market. Organic vegetables cost, on average, 50 percent more than nonorganic. Still, no definitive study exists showing that organic food is healthier than nonorganic. Yet, millions of people value and prioritize organic food’s offerings; and pay the higher cost.
McKinney endorses the blog originated by an IKEA furniture fan. Here, people submit pictures and stories of how they’ve repurposed their IKEA purchases, many in unanticipated ways, as highlighted in the third Killer Question above. To see for yourself, visit: http://www.ikeahackers.net.