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Jeffrey Phillips

Quality Insider

Innovators Are Pattern Breakers

You can ease the customer’s journey even if it’s not within your wheelhouse

Published: Monday, February 23, 2015 - 11:19

During the last five years or so I’ve been asked many, many times for my opinion about corporate innovation. Why is there so much demand for corporate innovation, yet so little practical result?

One could stipulate a number of reasons, including:
• Lack of time or bandwidth
• Focus on efficiency over experimentation
• Lack of innovation skills or techniques
• Inordinate rewards of short-term thinking over long-term success
• Fear of the uncertain or unknown

I am sure we could continue this list ad infinitum; these are all reasons why many corporations can’t successfully and continually innovate. Over time, however, I’ve come to realize that a larger issue is at stake. It’s a problem of pattern recognition—most companies believe that their customers’ needs begin and end within the manner in which those companies (or their broader industries) have defined their solutions. As long as a new product or service can be delivered within those definitions agreed upon by the industry, then innovation is easier to pursue. But when a need or demand arises that falls outside of, or just adjacent to, the way an industry or company defines its solutions, everything falls apart. Increasingly, innovation will be at the intersection of markets and industries, and organizations need to become far more flexible in how they define the market and the boundaries of their service offerings.

Top-down vs. horizontal

Most companies develop a specific representation of a market, industry, or segment. For example, the hair products team at Procter & Gamble (P&G) wants to solve problems for people who need to wash or condition their hair. But to an individual, that activity may be just a step in a complete journey from getting up to getting ready for work. Perhaps P&G should look at all the factors related to hair care in the customer’s journey, from waking up to leaving for work. That could potentially broaden the opportunity and introduce new solutions, but they may have nothing to do with shampoo.

How the P&G hair care team looks at what a consumer needs or wants to accomplish in the morning, the “jobs to be done,” if you will, starts and ends with their definition of the solution. They might say, “We are in the shampoo business” or “We are in the hair care business.” On the other hand, a consumer might say, “I have a job to do, which is to get up and get ready for work, one step of which is washing my hair.” If an innovation opportunity or need emerges just before someone washes their hair, or just afterwards, does P&G pursue it, or assume that some other vendor who provides services or products supporting the morning rituals will step in? Does the P&G hair care team say that it’s outside of our industry definition or sweet spot?  Do they say that it’s someone else’s job to fill?  Because if that gap is left in place long enough, rest assured, someone else will fill it.

Customer experience journey

Here’s where a customer experience journey map makes so much sense in seeking to understand all of the things a customer is trying to do, both with your product or service, or just before or after using it, rather than attempting to optimize a single step in the activity. As long as we take a top-down, segmented view of the customer, we can provide solutions for only a small portion of their “jobs” (i.e., morning routine), all the while missing or ignoring opportunities that are just adjacent to our capabilities or services.

You may say, well, if the customer’s needs are just adjacent to our services, we may not be in the best position or have the best capabilities to provide solutions—and you might be right. But what you are doing is opening the door for similar competition to take up a vital activity right next to your products and services. If it turns out that they can solve the adjacent need that you’ve been ignoring, does it build credibility for them to be able to solve the problems you’ve been focusing on all along—or worse, perhaps try to collapse the needs they are solving with the one you’ve been solving? Isn’t that what iTunes ultimately did: collapse several related solutions and needs into one more integrated solution?

Patterns, corporate capabilities, and industry boundaries

We pride ourselves on our pattern-recognition capabilities, but too often we become comfortable in our definitions and patterns. Far too frequently we at OVO Innovation see opportunities that are just outside or just adjacent to solutions and frameworks that a company has defined. They’ll say that those needs are outside their competencies or focus areas, and they may be right. However, they’re leaving the door open for other firms to solve those problems and gain credibility, when with a little bit of work they could extend their capabilities and solve a greater portion of the customer’s journey.

How much does your corporate capability limit your innovation potential? Are you required to follow the industry in terms of defining where it begins and where it ends? Do you understand the entire journey a customer is going through at the point in which they encounter your product or service? Is there a more complete or integrated solution you can provide to ease the customer journey, even if it’s not within your wheelhouse? We need to define our opportunities within the confines of our capabilities, but always with an eye to understanding the total needs of the customer. When is the last time you developed a customer journey map for your customers’ needs?

First published Feb. 9, 2015, in the Innovate on Purpose blog.


About The Author

Jeffrey Phillips’s picture

Jeffrey Phillips

Jeffrey Phillips is the lead innovation consultant for OVO, which offers assessments, consulting, training and team definition, change management, innovation workshops, and idea generation space and services. Phillips has led innovation projects in the United States, Western Europe, South Africa, Latin American, Malaysia, Dubai, and Turkey. He has expertise in the entire “front end of innovation” with specific focus on trend spotting and scenario planning, obtaining customer insights, defining an innovation process, and open innovation. He’s the author of Relentless Innovation (McGraw-Hill, 2011), and 20 Mistakes Innovators Make (Amazon Digital Services, 2013), and co-author of OutManeuver: OutThink—Don’t OutSpend (Xlibris, 2016).