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Backward Trends?

Backward Trends?

| On 02, Dec 2018

Darrell Mann

Its always a happy day when we find an innovation that appears to go against the TRIZ Trends, because it allows us to challenge the models and – hopefully – help to make them more resilient in the future. The innovation in question is the range of solid shampoo products from the retailer Lush. The fact that we can describe it as a ‘range’ is already indicative of the product’s success, but its only when we look at the figures that we start to see the magnitude of the step-change the Company has delivered. The great thing about making the product into a solid is that it eliminates a whole lot of packaging and therefore cost. Annual savings in water are 120,000 gallons, transportation costs are reduced by a factor of 15, there’s a 100% reduction in the need for preservative chemicals necessary in liquid shampoos and, selling over three million of the soap bars a year means 3 million less plastic containers.

The problem from the TRIZ perspective is that a jump from the traditional liquid shampoo to a solid represents a significant backward jump along one of the key Trends, Object Segmentation:

Figure 1: Solid Shampoo & The Object Segmentation Trend

The usual Trend rule is that innovation happens when solutions evolve from left to right and not right to left. So, what’s going on?

Well, the first thing to bring to bear is the full version of the rule. The Evolution Potential version of the rule describes that innovation happens when we have at least one net positive Trend jump. It’s okay, in other words, to travel backwards along one Trend so long as we make forward jumps along at least two others. And when we construct an Evolution Potential plot for the Lush solid shampoo (shaded orange) and overlay it onto a plot for a conventional liquid shampoo (shaded blue) we get the picture shown in Figure 2:

Figure 2: Evolution Potential Comparison Between Lush’s Solid Shampoo and Liquid Equivalent 

Now we get to see that although the solid shampoo has indeed gone backwards along the Object Segmentation Trend (5 o’clock position on the plot), it has made big forward jumps along both the Trimming Trend – in that all of the packaging has now disappeared – and along the Sustainability Trend – in that the whole business model has been re-thought by Lush.

So far so good. The original Evolution Potential ‘one net forward jump’ rule remains intact. The Lush solid shampoo looks like TRIZ would have predicted it.

But not quite. Think now about one of the most famous ‘exceptions’ to the TRIZ Trends – the smartphone handset we all increasingly carry around with us. The solid lump we now possess is a backward step along the Dynamization Trend: earlier phones contained one or more joints so that we could fold them and thus make them fit better in our pockets or bags. The rationale explaining the success of the solid-lump smartphone is that the handset had to (temporarily) evolve backwards in order that the keypad could advance from its ‘multiple jointed’ stage to become a (digital) ‘field’. In this case a sub-system (keypad) Trend advance trumped a system level (handset) to create what many would say was a world-changing innovation. The thinking in justifying this situation was to recognize that a forward jump that was ‘closest to the functionality the customer is looking for’ trumped backward jumps that were further away.

This ‘rule’ (‘heuristic’ is probably a better word) doesn’t seem to apply in the case of Lush’s solid shampoo. The shampoo is the thing that is intimately connected to the customer in this case, whereas the sustainability and trimming ‘benefits’ are felt more by Lush. Recognising this, it becomes far less clear why the solid shampoo has been successful.

Another question to answer. And one that only begins to make sense when we think about the overall Value equation – Benefits-divided-by-the-sum-of-Costs-and-Harms – and Lush’s value proposition to their customers.

In the interests of research, I covered my nose, and braved a visit to my local Lush store to purchase one of the solid shampoos. Then I took the thing in the shower with me. I’d have to say that, although it did the job as well as my usual liquid shampoo, it definitely felt less easy to use. Rubbing a lump of soap over your head is definitely not as good as squeezing a liquid into your hand. The liquid spreads easily, but with the solid, I had to take more time making sure I lathered everywhere. I got the same Benefits ultimately, but I lost out on Cost (Lush is expensive!) and definitely lost out on convenience (Harm). It felt like I was down on the deal. Lush’s solid shampoo ought not to be an innovation in my selfish eyes.

But therein lies the solution to the problem. I’m not Lush’s typical customer. Lush’s typical customer likes spending lots of money on cosmetic products. And they like doing something to ‘Save The Planet’. For Lush’s typical customer, therefore, the solid shampoo represents a very definite ‘two steps forward, one step back’, Evolution Potential rule-obeying innovation.

It all comes down to context. Solid shampoo has been a massive seller – and thus a big innovation success story – for Lush and their customers. But the fact that I can’t go to my local supermarket and purchase a solid shampoo means that I can’t call them a success in the broader context.

We’ve spent the last fifteen years trying to find a universal hierarchy of Trends. It’s a question we get asked a lot by clients: ‘how do I know which Trends are more important than others?’ Our answer has always been, ‘it depends’. As far as we can see there is no ‘universal’ hierarchy. What there is instead are a whole series of domain specific hierarchies for each different industry. And now, what the Lush solid shampoo niche-success tells us, is that it is also dependent on the relative priority of the Benefit, Cost and Harm elements of the Value equation for each different cohort of customer types. Instinct probably tells us that this shouldn’t be a surprise. What’s nice now is that Lush has given us a very tangible example of what that means in practice.