It’s easy to get stuck in only seeing part of the opportunity. Innovation, today, has so many factors that can cause your project to get knocked off the track—or get shot to the moon. Only by thinking holistically can you make innovation work. Maybe the assignment is to create a new product for a category when what is needed is a change in the way the product is communicated. Or it could be the other way around. Or more probably it’s both.
Go Big First
The company OXO makes kitchen tools. They understood the market for kitchen tools could change. OXO recognized that most kitchen tools on the market were ugly and they saw this as an opportunity. They did their job pretty well, but they didn’t inspire people to cook. To just make a better-looking tool wasn’t enough to light up the market.
The other part of their big idea came from elderly customers. The small handles on spatulas and cheese graters were difficult to hold and manipulate. Suddenly, their designers had a mission that could instruct the form. By coming up with a powerful narrative built on making the kitchen tools easier to hold, both the product design and the marketing worked hand-in-hand to explode the kitchen utensil market. The result? The products were universally appealing because they solved multiple issues. OXO transformed kitchen tools from a commodity category to one with actual consumer preference and loyalty. Going forward OXO will have to add more perspectives to their big ideas, or they risk becoming the new higher designed commodity.
How can your business expand the issues solved by your products or services? First, you have to think big. Really big. Then you have to consider how your thinking isn’t big enough. Shoot holes in it. Look at it from multiple customer types’ points of view. Consider an environmental point of view. Look at it from a needs-based point of view. This is why collaboration can be so powerful in the process. Every collaborator comes with a new vantage point, maybe a bigger vantage point. Are you collaborating enough with designers inside and out? With your customers? Even with your competitors?
Then Think Small, As Small As You Can
On the flip side, sometimes it can be the smallest insight that creates a paradigm shift, those unforeseen insights that nobody else seems to notice where a culture starts to change. It’s usually small things happening with consumer behavior in a related field that make the big difference.
A few years ago, there was a significant shift in pet culture. Not only were more people owning pets, but the relationship between owner and pet was changing. Pets became more than pets, they became companions. With that increase in status, people started taking much better care of their pets, buying them everything from health insurance to custom outfits. Pet owners’ happiness was fueled, in part, by their pet’s happiness.
At the same time we saw that a lot of Volkswagen Jetta Wagon owners owned dogs. It was easy to see why. Wagons are the perfect dog vehicle. It seemed like a good opportunity. But after going out and really listening to dog owners we saw an intriguing tension between new cars and dogs. If you’re a dog owner, you understand what we mean. Although you might want a new car, one look and it’s easy to think about how your dog will soon make your new car look old with slobber, mud, and general wear and tear.
Instead of trying to convince dog owners through advertising that the Passat Wagon was the perfect vehicle, it was much more powerful to actually make a Passat Wagon Dog Edition. The Dog Edition came with a special rubber insert that slides into the back of the Wagon. It was filled with everything to make the dog’s life happier, equipped with a dog ramp, and a place for everything from a Frisbee to a blanket. We realized that a happy dog makes for a happy dog owner.
Ask These Questions Right Now
Is your business thinking small enough? What niche in the market seems forgotten by everyone and is one that you can own? Do you have niche customers, like dog owners, that you can innovate with and for? Also, think small when it comes to your products. How can you innovate a product feature that seems small but could be huge?
Think about what’s happening in adjacent fields that might influence your customer’s behavior. For example, when bluetooth technology emerged, it completely changed how people used their car stereos. Is there something happening in culture generally that, at the moment, seems tiny but could be big? Tap into that and find inspiration where no one else is looking. The winners are companies that adapt fast with a small change.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Linkedin.