End of Product

Better Mousetrap catThe phrase “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door” is often used as a metaphor about the power of innovation. If it is so simple, why has building a better mousetrap been so unrewarding? Why have most new product development efforts, that follow this wisdom, resulted in market failure?

Let’s start to peel this onion by asking what “better mousetrap” really means:

  • less expensive?
  • more effective, i.e. kills more mice?
  • more attractive in appearance?

the list can go on, and incorporation of these improvements may motivate a marginal increase in units sold, but the world rarely beats a path to a door proudly labeled “new and improved mousetraps”.

Those, who subscribe to the school of thought pioneered by Clayton Christensen, would argue convincingly that the “world” would rather not beat a path to a mousetrap, preferring the choice not to deal with mice at all. It is easy to understand that customers would prefer to pay for vermin being repelled from their dwellings, rather than to buy, set the traps, and deal with the dead mice disposal. In other words, a mousetrap is not a product at all – a vermin free dwelling is what customers want.

“The customers rarely buy what the business thinks it sells them. One reason for this is, of course, that nobody pays for a product.”  Peter Drucker.

Indeed, customers pay for obtaining a desirable outcome, they “hire” a product to do a “job”. From that perspective, they would likely pay more to obtain that outcome faster and with fewer complexities. In fact, minimizing the steps in the process of obtaining a desired outcome is at the roots of true innovation, the innovation that brings commercial success. In order to be successful an innovator has to be an expert in a “job” that customers would “hire” the new product to do. Yet, most want-to-be innovators are experts in products and/or technologies their companies sell. The critical pieces of the innovation puzzle are missing:

  1. clear understanding of the actual outcomes their customers desire,
  2. intimate knowledge of how customers experience the processes they use to obtain these outcomes, and
  3. empathy to motivate an innovator to find ways to simplify their experience.

Without these three ingredients, the “magic” of innovation is not likely to happen. For all intents and purposes, you are no longer set to design a “product”, but to design a “service” to deliver a simple and consistent experience for your customers, who are trying to obtain the outcome they actually desire. The degree of simplicity and consistency, and nothing else, will truly differentiate your offering from the others and will afford you to extract premium margins.

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3 Responses to End of Product

  1. Bettina Lindner Lippisch says:

    Agreed with the idea of designing with customers in mind, there is no arguing about that. However, it is important to discuss innovation itself. There are two types of “innovation: 1. Improving an existing product, which is essentially globalizing it by increasing market- and customer reach, trying to gain more market share, and b) zero to one innovation (to steal Peter Thiel’s term here), which creates a brand new product that has no competition, essentially becoming the monopoly in catching mice.

    Likely, it will be difficult to improve a mousetrap (to stay with the topic) enough to outpace all the other mousetrap products, however, if I can invent a cheese that is so irresistible that makes any mousetrap work so much better that it never fails on the first try, I might be on to something!

    Great article and topic, Gregory, thank you!

  2. Gregory says:

    Thank you Bettina. Your example of “better cheese” does not simplify experience of dealing with dead mice :). From customers perspective, the best “mousetrap” is the one that keeps mice away.

  3. Pingback: Innovating for Outcomes | The Customer Experience Officer

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