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| On 23, Jun 2008

Jack Hipple

$140 a Barrel –

By the time you read this, it may be higher. If you’re in Europe, the price has also gone up, but no where near as much. Why? Because we currently price oil in dollars and with the  huge US budget deficit and growing inflation, our currency is declining against virtually all of the other world’s major currencies. So does that mean that other people in the world shouldn’t be trying to conserve? Of course not, but you have to admit that their perspective is different, and when we ask others to “help us out”, it’s not surprising that one of the responses we hear is “fix your own problem”.

Perspective in interesting, isn’t it? And that includes when we consider it in the area of innovation. One person’s “cool” thing is a yawn to others because they don’t have a need for whatever the cool thing does. Do suppliers and customers see things the same way? Sometimes, if there’s a long standing strategic partnership in place. But how often does that occur? I like my insurance agent, and he saved me some real money when I first switched, but I went on the web this afternoon to the Progressive web site to see if his insurance was still a good deal. 

When we’re innovating, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of liking ourselves and not understanding what a customer is actually doing, or might do, with our invention. I heard a talk a while back from a researcher at a large OTC drug company discussing how they actually went into the homes of sick children to see what the consumer actually did with the bottle they bought—how they stored it, how they opened it, how they used it—the whole environment in which the medicine was used. (You do read all those directions supplied with cough syrup, don’t you?). They videotaped in the home so that their researchers, packaging designers, and marketing people could actually see what was done with the cough syrup. How often have you actually visited a customer, not to have lunch, factory tour, or golf outing, but to actually see how your products are used? Talked to the people (not the purchasing agent) who actually uses your stuff? What kinds of “workarounds” are being done to use your materials? Do your customers actually know and use all the features you have built in? Is there some feature that is being included indirectly because you don’t supply it? If not, I’ll bet someone is going to come along with something simpler and cheaper and impact your business (think cell phones that only receive calls, cell phones that recharge with a hand crank, call phones that only call and receive with big numbers). Or they are adding a feature you didn’t know was needed. Why doesn’t someone in the TV business figure out how to make a truly uiniversal romote? How many do you have? How many would you like to have? Do the engineers designing these things ever use them? Are they more intested in features or what is needed by the customer?

Getting back to the oil price—is China’s perspective on this the same as ours? They are financing our debt, and then turning around and buying their oil with it while we pay them interest. While we fret about our debt, they see it as a way of increasing global leverage. Innovators with coal based technology are salivating at the prospect of having a price sufficient to support their efforts. They have no infrastructure investment in conventional refineries, so they have more freedom. The same difference in perspective was there for wireless suppliers vs. land line phones.

Perspective is an interesting word in innovation. One perspective may be totally different than another. Before you invest a fortune, make sure you see your innovation through the eyes of all those who might be affected—customers, suppliers, and future competitors. Challenge yourself and your people to get outside the box and look at your breakthrough and your innovation potentials through different eyes. Role play as many eyes as you can imagine and your ideas will have more substance and be able to stand up to commercial challenge.