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Innovation: A question of values

Updated: Mar 21, 2022

When I first got involved with innovation, quite a few years back, there were many misconceptions about innovation and much to unpick. Chief of which was instilling a customer centric viewpoint. An obligatory life philosophy for companies, in my opinion (and that of much greater minds), if only as a generator of innovation. Ever since, many books have been written (and more to the point, read), seminars given, articles published and the public duly enlightened. Key concepts such as MVP, AB testing, and business model canvas have become household names. And besides conceptual methods, there are now also excellent real-time analytical tools to monitor consumer behavior and preferences.

But in the rush to becoming all-singing-all-dancing consumer centric organizations, many missed out on one important detail. Being customer centric means keeping the customer interest at heart. It does not mean submitting blindly to customer surveys.

Certainly, surveying consumers is immensely important for validating assumptions about tangible products or concepts. With the right experiment, you will discover, for instance, that certain UX are preferable to others. And with the right approach, even elucidate what consumers like and detest about existing products. Admittedly valuable stuff that helps improving products and avoiding expensive mistakes. However, when it comes to game changing innovation, consumer research tends to resemble those proverbial blind men reporting that an elephant, is a tree, a snake and a rope.

Because consumers, as a rule, don’t venture much beyond obvious commentary. In the 80’s a big majority of consumers thought that mobile phones were useless gimmicks. Similarly few understood the concept (and significance) of the internet or social media. Yet several years after being rebuffed, all three have changed consumers lives beyond recognition. No manner of consumer observation or surveys could predict this. Of course, back then researchers lacked the current sophisticated AI tools and whatnot. Yet I believe, these are better at detecting casual improvements than breakthrough innovations. More the whispers in the wind than the sermon on the mount.

So how did big innovations break through? The answer is because innovative people and companies don’t rely on consumer opinion. Their insight is based on an innate understanding of the value that consumers will reap.

Two9Six method seeks to emulate this. Inspired by Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, our method, termed Motivation Mapping, is based on guided brainstorming technique scanning a full range of value attributes.

First it should be noted that value is a fluid quantity. Sometimes it can be nailed down to a simple technical attribute, like higher resolution of a screen. Other times the technical attributes are just a façade. My favorite example is in the car industry, which has consistently been selling premium cars, whose superiority over the run-of-the-mill sort, is effectively theoretical. This is not an industry secret. So are consumer duped? No. The value most customers covet is not performance, per se, but the status derived from affording a fast (and expensive) car.

Such observations lead us to list value attributes into 5 areas:

  • Autonomy: Empowering consumers, increasing independence and customizing products to needs. Such attributes underline the most radical innovations often resulting in long lasting value for customers and innovators. The example of mobile phones, internet and social media fall largely into this bracket. More recent examples would be Spotify and Microsoft HoloLens & Waze. All three made it possible for consumers to do things they couldn’t before, or reduce dependencies on much pricier solutions.

  • Vanity: Aspects of the product that increases consumers status, sense of joy, emotional state and visibility. This group is sometimes overlooked, and can generate high return on a relatively small investments. Think of Duolingo that made learning a language more engaging and fun.

  • Comfort: Simplifying consumers lives, increasing accessibility, and compatibility with other aspects of their lives. Here the observations of consumer behavior comes handy. Hence input from such studies is immensely valuable for the workshop. The iPhone layout is a lesson on how to simplify things. All voice assistance tools fall into this category too.

  • Caution: Reducing or removing unwanted aspects: costs, time loss, risk and privacy loss. To uncover possible ideas, conversations with non-consumers often provides the information nuggets. Think of how TripAdvisor saves you the risk of falling into a tourist trap, free trial periods for software reduces the risk of landing a dud, and Amazon Go saves time at check out (though perhaps at the cost of privacy)

  • Virtue: Aspects that are not beneficial directly to consumers, but to causes they support such as social and environmental benefits. Patagonia is a shining example, and Tanaruz, a company I am personally involved in, is another. Tanaruz uses additive manufacturing techniques to 3D print (electrical) pleasure boats out of reclaimed polymers. This significantly reduces the cost and waste involved in boat manufacturing.

Like other brainstorming techniques, Motivation Mapping is iterative in nature. It begins by identifying insufficiently addressed value attributes with an eye on technical feasibility. Ideas are prioritized based on ease of realization and market differentiation. High priority ideas progress toward an MVP and customer validation.

Motivation Mapping differentiates from some other techniques is its focus on identifying the stakeholder value, rather than solving a specific problem. But the overall aim of improving the product and customer welfare is similar, hence we always advise mixing approaches. We found that our our approach combines well with other established innovation methods such as SCAMPER and Opposite Thinking to name a few.

Our guided workshops have uncovered unexpected insight in a range of situations and industries. Most importantly insight that differentiates the company and provides a purpose. The workshop is very easy to apply, flexible, and can be used to analyze the benefit for any involved stakeholder besides consumers. For example, we used it to attract investors and win government approvals for development plans.

Please contact me if you'd like to learn more about the method or try it in your organization.

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