Honda Provides Insights Into Innovation

I just read a fascinating article in Fortune Magazine called “Inside Honda’s brain” that discusses Honda’s R&D/innovation efforts. Here’s an excerpt:

Honda researchers were curious about how the human brain reacts to images. They found that people recognize faces, especially angry faces, more quickly than other images. Honda has incorporated this research into its motorcycle designs (like that of the DN-01). By designing the front of the bike to evoke the features of the human face, Honda believes that other drivers will recognize the presence of a motorcycle more quickly and therefore lead to greater traffic safety.

My take: This little snippet highlights three elements that can be very valuable in your innovation efforts:

  1. The research goes beyond traditional technical domains
  2. The insights build upon a deeper understanding of target users
  3. The design implementation has a clear purpose

The bottom line: How do your innovation efforts compare to this snapshot of Honda and to Apple’s design process I discussed in a previous post?

A Peek At Apple’s Design Process

Helen Walters put up a very interesting post called “Apple’s design process” on one of the Business Week blogs. It outlines some comments from Michael Lopp, senior engineering manager at Apple.

After describing Apple’s process of delivering consumers with a succession of presents (“really good ideas wrapped up in other really good ideas” – in other words, great software in fabulous hardware in beautiful packaging), he asked the question many have asked in their time: “How the f*ck do you do that?”

Lopp points to these 4 key elements of Apple’s design process:

  1. Pixel Perfect Mockups: Removes ambiguity from the beginning
  2. 10 to 3 to 1: Start with 10 entirely different mock-ups for any feature, select three to spend months on designing, and then end up with one.
  3. Paired Design Meetings: They hold 2 meetings each week throughout the process: one for unconstrained brainstorming and the other for production details.
  4. Pony Meeting: Everyone has their wants; like kids all want a pony. So they present the best options from the paired design meetings to the leadership team to select their “ponies.”

The bottom line: What processes does your firm have for ensuring ongoing innovation and compelling design alternatives?

Don’t Mistake Innovation For Strategy

Al Reis wrote an excellent article in Advertising Age that captures its thesis in the title: Innovation Should Be Seen as a Tactic, Not a Business Strategy. Here are a few excerpts:

What makes a powerful automobile brand today is not innovation, but a narrow focus on an attribute or a segment of the market…

Innovations outside of a brand’s core position can undermine a brand…

Most brands don’t need innovations; they need focus. They need to figure out what they stand for (or what they could stand for) and then what they need to sacrifice to get there.

My take: I applaud Reis for introducing restraint in a really hot topic area (Look at my posts Customer Experience Innovation: As Simple As 1-2-3 and Trend Watch #4: Business Week “Innovation Predictions 2008.”) Executives get so enamored with “innovation” that they lose sight of the fact that it’s just a tool, not the ultimate objective. Don’t get me wrong, it can be a very powerful tool, but it needs to be used to support the brand strategy. 

As I was thinking about where innovation can help the most, I thought about this Venn diagram that I used in a previous post


Innovation works best in the overlapping areas on the diagram!

The bottom line: Get more from innovation by obsessing less about it.

Customer Experience Innovation: As Simple As 1-2-3

I just published a research report called “Customer Experience Innovation In Three Steps” which describes the following three-step process for creating breakthrough customer experience innovations:

  1. Uncover the needs. Let’s start with an assertion: In every industry, customers have a lot of unmet needs. Why else would digital video recorders (DVRs) like TiVo gain momentum when there was no shortage of mature VCR options? The first step in the customer experience innovation process is to understand exactly what current and potential customers really need through end user research like ethnography.
  2. Design a disruptive strategy. After understanding what customers really want, firms need to define potential offerings. Although ideas for new products and services can come from anywhere, firms should consider designing solutions based on one or more of Forrester’s five disruptive customer experience strategies.
  3. Evaluate the opportunity. Not all innovations are worthy of investment. To decide which ones make sense to fund, firms can use the R-W-W (real-win-worth it) framework. How does this work? Only go ahead with proposals if you can answer “yes” to all three of the following questions: Is the opportunity real? Can you win? Is it worth doing?

The bottom line: Make sure that innovation is on your agenda.

Trend Watch #4: Business Week “Innovation Predictions 2008”

In this Trend WatchI’m taking a closer look at the following article from Business Week: “Innovation Predictions 2008” While you can see the full list of 14 predictions at the bottom of this post, here are the 7 items that I think are most important for customer experience:

#1) Innovation Consolidation. Excerpt: “One of the big, established consulting firms such as McKinsey, Bain or BCG makes a pass at one of the small design-turned-innovation consultancies-Jump, Continuum, IDEO, or ZIBA-to bolster its innovation practice.”

  • My take: Many of these “innovation consultancies” are going beyond product design and deeper into overall customer experience design — which needs to be a core part of any business strategy (from my point of view anyway). So it makes sense to see the strategy titans trying to expand their offerings in these areas. But I’m not sure if these design firms can survive the post-acquisition culture clash.

#2) B-School Goes D-School. Excerpt: “Business administration focuses on making existing business processes and products better and more efficient. Business design focuses on creating new options for new forms of enterprise.”

  • My take: Design is a loaded word. In some cases it is viewed as a narrow domain. In others, like here, it’s referring to an overhaul of business strategy. However the word is used, keep the three questions of Scenario Design front-and-center: Who are your users?; what are their goals?; and how can you help them accomplish their goals? 

#3) Creative Growth. Excerpt: “As the traditional, cost-cutting workout fails, the private equity firm brings in innovation consultants to shape a growth strategy.”

  • My take: I hope that the private equity firms find creative ways to develop long-term value and not just package the firms up to flip them. A good place to look for creative growth is by applying one or more of the five disruptive customer experience strategies: Ultrasimplicity, online infusion, service infusion, service amplification, and value repositioning.

#5) One Laptop Boomerangs.” Excerpt: “OLPC is criticized as “Western high-tech imperialism.” Governments in Asia and Africa reject the beautifully designed children’s computer because of high costs for installation, repair, and electricity as well as limited local educational content.”

  • My take: I hope that this doesn’t happen. I’m a big fan of the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) program. But any new and radical effort like OLPC will always find some bumps along the way. Hopefully the OLPC organization can respond to, and correct, any of these potential issues.

#8) Unfriend Me. Excerpt: “People move to gated networks from Facebook and MySpace (NWS), fleeing the commercialization of their personal information and relationships.

  • My take: Social computing has so much buzz (or should we call it a “friending frenzy”) that a backlash is highly likely. I know that I  get barraged with invitations to join this network or that network. I think Woody Allen got it right in Annie Hall: “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.”

#9) Mobile Explosion. Excerpt: “A flood of new applications for the iPhone (AAPL), the newly opened Verizon (VZ) network, and Google’s (GOOG) Android platform generate an explosion of great cell-phone experiences.

  • My take: I’m not sure that we’ll see a ton of “great experiences” on cell phones in 2008, but we’ll see some good ones. Companies are recognizing the right types of applications and target audiences for mobile apps. And, the iPhone opens up many new opportunities; I only wish that it was available on Verizon.

#13) The Customer Is King. Excerpt: “Consumers replace competitors as the key reference point for corporate strategy. Reason? Disruptive innovation now often takes places outside the normal competitive environment..

  • My take: This is music to my ears; and, as many of you know, my mantra. There’s no better strategy than knowing your customers better than your competitors. So I agree, I agree, and I agree. Take a look at the post: “My Manifesto: Great Customer Experience Is Free.”  

14 Trends To Watch from Business Week

Here are all of the trends listed in the Business Week article:

  1. Innovation Consolidation
  2. B-School Goes To D-School
  3. Creative Growth
  4. Presidential Policy
  5. One Laptop Boomerangs
  6. Our Urban Planet
  7. Fly WiFi
  8. Unfriend Me
  9. Mobile Explosion
  10. Kindle Catches Fire
  11. It’s All About Me
  12. Hang On To The Good Stuff
  13. The Customer Is King
  14. Shape-Shifting Enterprises.

Also see: Trend Watch #1: The Economist “The World In 2008 (Business)Trend Watch #2: The McKinsey Quarterly “Eight Business Technology Trends To Watch,” and Trend Watch #3: Advertising Age “Trends To Watch In 2008.”  

The bottom line: Innovation, design, mobile, and customers are hot, but friending and OLPC hit a few speed bumps.