|If you’re wondering why you’ve seen so little original thought on these pages of late, it’s because I can’t seem to shake the post-vacation blues. ‘Til they’re gone, I’ll keep relaying good ideas and inspirations from others.
It’s been said that there are no new ideas in the world, just unique and clever ways of re-combining and articulating the old ones. A recent article in Strategy & Innovation by Eric Mankin contains no new insight, but a brilliantly simple formula, based on well-established business knowledge, for assessing whether your business concept truly fills an unmet need.
The formula is based on Clay Christensen‘s description of what ‘filling an unmet need’ really means:
When a consumer buys a product, they are really ‘hiring’ it to get a job done. Companies are successful when they make it easier for their customers to get done what they were already trying to do.
Mankin says that a product that ‘makes it easier for customers to get done what they were already trying to do’ must meet four criteria:
Rate your new product or service according to these new criteria, and you’ll have a pretty good assessment of the likelihood of success of your new business. A lot of cheaply-made, environmentally damaging and wasteful products, like the new cheap disposable toothbrushes, the Swiffer products, and the endless rounds of ‘disposable wipes’ of every description meet criteria 2, 3 and 4 very well, and for buyers who think only of short-term cost, criterion 1 as well, and they have been very successful. The vast majority of new technologies, including Social Networking tools, fail to meet criteria 3 and (because they’re only available to computer users) 4, and are doomed to fail until they simplify adoption and broaden their reach (see diagram above). Clever innovators know the only way around criterion 1 is to develop a product or service that is unique, and has no existing alternatives, which is why great new ideas like TiVo, and the pioneering products from companies like Sony, are initially priced steeply, to recoup the costs of development quickly.
Perception is reality, and skeptics might argue that the purpose of advertising is to convince people that every new product meets these criteria, but I have more respect for the average consumer than that. I believe advertising does nothing more than raise awareness of a new product’s availability. Regardless of the cleverness of the message, most consumers will assess each product on the basis of how well it meets the four criteria above for them personally, and will discount any commercial that tries to do that thinking for them.
The easiest way for entrepreneurs to meet these criteria is:
If more innovators and entrepreneurs had Mankin’s formula in front of them as they developed their products and services, I think the success rate of new innovations would be a lot higher.
Thanks to Innovation Weekly for the link.