Friday, April 13, 2012

Separating Needs and Concepts: How to Develop Great New Products

Professor Laura Kornish of Leeds School of Business at CU Boulder has a great post about crowdsourcing over at Fast Company.   She reminds us that we have to be careful when identifying our objectives during consumer research or crowdsourcing initiatives.   We have to separate the determination of the customers' needs from the development of a new product concept.   Here's an excerpt:

In traditional product development practice, there is a separation between gathering data from customers about their needs--via interviews, observations, focus groups, and surveys--and proposing new product concepts. The classic example of this separation is, "People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!" (Theodore Levitt’s example from Harvard Business Review, 1960). In that view, managers guiding innovation should consult the users for what needs to happen, not rely on the users themselves to dream big about how it can happen. Crowdsourcing in innovation allows us rethink this separation. We can ask the crowd directly to provide the solutions, then work backward to infer what is on their minds.

What wonderful advice!  Don't ask the customer to design the new product.   Seek to understand what the unmet need of the customer is!   We don't want the customer actually having to come up with the innovation.  In fact, often they will just offer incremental modifications of the existing product.  They usually won't be able to "think outside the box" in the midst of a focus group or interview.  Seek instead to understand their frustrations and their pain.  What makes them unhappy at the moment?  Then, work on alleviating that pain with a new product concept.  

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