What products and services have revolutionalized your life? In my lifetime, there have been many. Wonder how they came about? It required asking the right questions and really listening for the answer.
In today’s pressured economic environment it is really tempting to ask, “How can we cut back?”, “How can we do this for less money/time?”. Sometimes those questions lead to great breakthroughs. Usually, they lead to quality issues and less satisfied customers.
The better questions are “What are we doing that we could stop and nobody would miss?”, “What could we start doing that would be so important we could stop x, y and z?”
The first set of questions are inside-out or what do we need. The second set are outside-in or how do people see us. Since you depend on customers to grow your business, start with what they need and ask the outside-in questions. That is where great opportunities exist!
Here are three great transformational products that have impacted most of us and the thinking that created them. Perhaps they will get you started on the right questions!
As a student of breakthoughs, lets go all the way back to the 1960’s: The first consumer model microwave, the Amana Radarange, was introduced in 1967 and cost $495 – equivalent to $3000 today – and sparked a revolution in American lifestyle. Once thought of as a gimmick, they are now found in 90% of all homes. At one time, according to www.vat19.com, they were rated as the #1 technology in making people’s lives better – ahead of the answering machine and the atm. What is interesting about them, is that, like the post-it note, they were an accident and thus required an astute repositioning of technology to become popular.
Given my travel schedule, one of my favorites is luggage on wheels. Invented in 1972 by Mr. Bernard Sadow, he was at first ridiculed by luggage buyers until he met a VP at Macy’s that bought his idea. Today Mr. Sadow still gets royalty checks as well as my thanks!
Cell phones were, and still are, an evolving life-transforming technology. As business people, let’s focus on the smartphone–since we can’t seem to take our eyes off of them 24/7. They have actually been around in one form or another since 1993. The difference between then and now is that early smartphones were primarily used as enterprise devices and were prohibitively expensive for most consumers. But with the enormous success of the iPhone, carriers have discovered that they can lock in customers for long periods of time by heavily subsidizing their purchases of the latest and hottest smartphones. Ta-da! We all have them now. Was the breakthrough the technology or the pricing model?
Finally, another personal favorite, the Swiffer. According to wikipedia, Swiffer is a line of cleaning products by Procter and Gamble. Introduced in 1999, the brand uses the “razor-and-blades business model“; in this case, the consumer purchases the handle assembly at a low price, but must continue to purchase replacement refills and pads over the life of the product. It is not sophisticated technology like the others, but a great application of a successful business model.
So, how can you achieve breakthrough growth in your industry? Understand that you are one right question away from the possibility. If you don’t do it, someone else might. Then get curious and strike up dialogues with customers, vendors, and technology gurus about what might be desired and possible. Ask the right questions!