Trends, Futurism, and Research

    Small “i” Insights or Large “I” Insights Yield Different Innovation

    World's first ATM at Charring Cross in London, 1968.

    World’s first ATM at Charring Cross in London, 1968.

    Qualitative Consumer Verbatims Lead Directly to New and Improved Ideas

    Disruptive Innovation Requires Reframing of Consumer Words and Need States

    Working with Fortune 1000 companies I’ve found cultures rich in respect for qualitative research. The term “Focus Groups” really doesn’t do the method justice, it’s more sophisticated than that.  Smaller companies often do qualitative to, usually less formally, and often poorly, but sometimes brilliantly. Listening to consumers is a skill any entrepreneur or innovator can cultivate.

    The trap is thinking that consumer words, aka insights, are great launching pads or problem frames for ideation. They’re not bad, but they rarely lead to disruptive innovation. As a qual friend said to me, “here are big “I” insights and small “i” insights.”

    Respect for qualitative data is important; companies have died ignoring consumers words. Qualitative is a highly useful method for understanding consumers. Consumer feedback is often directly applied to innovation. “They want bigger portions? We’ll give em an extra large size.” This can lead to great results. It’s also failed miserably. Obvious insights are not exactly a competitive advantage either.

    Raw data is not information. Information, and higher level insights, can emerge from qualitative, but there is a thinking step between the data and the market-changing insight. So, if a consumer says, “I want a faster bank teller” or “I’d like to get in and out of the bank quickly” a literal problem frame would be “How might we make a teller more efficient?” That would lead to ideas for training, or more tellers, or efficiency processes, essentially improvement ideas. In other words “little i” insights.

    A more abstract frame would be “How might we make the customer their own teller?” or “How might we eliminate the teller?” or, “How might we improve the banking experience?” . These higher order problem frames could lead to an idea like the ATM, a disruptive innovation. These frames are more open questions — with a wider field of potential ideas and solutions. The disruptive problem frame (or question) requires imaginative interpretation of the consumers words. Or, it might require deeper qualitative research to get to this level of need.

    As it turns out the imaginative insight for the ATM came from an engineer who thought he should be able to get his money just like he got a chocolate bar from a vending machine. His intuitive leap stemmed from the need of access to cash. He brought the idea to Barclay’s Bank in the UK and they developed the first ATM.

    As Henry Ford once famously said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” 

    I’m not a fan of innovators simply building a product or service to their personal visions. The underlying need or usefulness needs to be there, and this is where qualitative is helpful. ATM’s were not trusted at the start, but the need for a faster and more efficient experience was strong enough to overcome initial resistance. A true visionary might indeed see exactly what the market needs without direct consumer verification. You hear about them, Steve Jobs being the notable example — no consumer ever described an iPod. What you don’t hear are the thousands of failures of bright ideas and products that don’t meet a particular need state. Steve didn’t need a focus group to tell him what consumers thought because he was completely immersed in what consumers thought about technology and music. He lived life observing and developing higher order insights.

    Qualitative has its purpose! You need to listen — and then you need to think about what they are doing and frame an innovation challenge question with imagination — if disruptive innovation is your goal.

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    Innovate Immigration Policy

    Why a Hostile Immigration Policy is Stupid Who remembers George Gilder? He’s a relevant person to recall at this moment in time. George Gilder said in 1995: “Without immigration over the last 50 years, I would estimate that U.S. real living standards would be at least 40% lower.” He could be wrong with that figure. It might be more than 40%. He said that in 1995. Readers who would prefer I stay out of political posts please understand this is a post about Innovation. I’m not going to comment on the moral, legal, or overtly political aspects of the new immigration policy. I will say that the new policy is hostile, at the very least in terms of how it’s




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    Damaged Pure Michigan Brand Impedes Economic Development

    Pure Michigan is a Damaged Brand As a Michigan resident I’ve followed the developments in Flint with a mixture of horror, sadness, outrage, and confusion.  This post is not about political blame. Having said that, I don’t deny the political element to the problem; it’s a sad tale of bad decisions on top of bad decisions, and some of those made for purely political reasons. Fact seeking people on both sides of the aisle need to take a very close look at what’s happened. The focus of this post is about the damage that has been done to the state of Michigan’s brand, Pure Michigan.  This is not being talked about, but it’s as damaging in the long run as




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    Graphene Application Challenge Prize?

    The Graphene Challenge Graphene is a new material that is just in its infancy in terms of commerical usage. It’s from graphite, the stuff in pencils. It’s magical stuff — 150 times stronger than steel, flexible like rubber, and potentially usable in electronics, water filtration, energy, building construction, medical, and more. It’s the thinnest material known to man at this moment. It’s 250 times more conductive or “mobile” than silicon. It hit the news again recently as scientists have discovered a much cheaper way to produce the material. This is a market that is about to explode. It’s frustratingly hard to work with. But that’s the fun part.  Unfortunately for the USA, it would see the prime early movers in




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    Domain Knowledge Matters Donald Trump

    Call me king of the obvious but I’d like to remind folks about something related to leadership, innovation, and the upcoming election. Domain Knowledge Matters I’m not taking political sides here but I’m going to make a point about Donald Trump’s candidacy. Let’s face it he has captured the attention of a large group of people. This is factual — the polls have him leading the GOP field. My opinion on why he’s doing so well is this: Trump says things that are bold, straightforward, non-PC and they echo the sentiments of many Americans. People love this approach because it’s just not what they’re used to hearing from a politician. I’ll put aside the notions and accusations that he’s racist,




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    Three Sad Innovation Lessons From Radio Shack

    Keep Punching, Stay True to Yourself and Trends, Make Things The demise of Radio Shack., it’s depressing. Much like Kodak you read the history of events and can point to several ideas not done that could have saved them. You can also point to many ideas they tried that were clearly the wrong bets. Hindsight is better than foresight, but still, if they’d stuck to their original values they might have survived. Radio Shack substituted short sighted management tactics for real innovation and invention and that’s ultimately what killed them. They lost the sense of who they were as a company and that led them down a lot of innovation blind alleys. A once loved brand in consumer electronics, and a




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    Four Criteria for Hiring an Innovation Speaker

    Four Criteria for Hiring an Innovation Keynoter Let this post work as a guide for meeting planners. You don’t have to hire me as your innovation speaker, but if you hire one, you’ll be well served if you pay attention to these four criteria and my comments in bold. Innovation is a complex, wonky topic and it has some special requirements that go beyond the classic things meeting planners look for in a speaker. Let’s keep this simple and as neutral as possible — my shameless personal plug is at the very bottom. I’m even going to suggest my competition here. So here goes, in my view an Innovation Speaker should: 1. Have a background as a successful entrepreneur and/or




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    Rural Broadband Necessary for Rural Innovation

    Tuesday– September 23, 2014 It’s nice to see that people are recognizing that innovation isn’t always in Silicon Valley. Writing you today from the countryside in Three Oaks, Michigan, aka “Michiana” — where my poky web access is satellite based. Steve Case’s article earlier this week in the Washington Post  — Why innovation and start-ups are thriving in ‘flyover’ country —  is spot on. Case, you may recall, was co-founder of AOL. He correctly identifies the reasons why Chicago, Denver, Cincinnati, and other smaller cities are becoming vibrant centers of start-ups. He’s asking for investments of time and money to be made in order to further the trend. I agree, and… He didn’t go far enough with his article — he missed one




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    Big Imagination is Blind Spot Remover

    Coming back from a trip to Toronto (visiting with the amazing Min Basadur) I spotted an interesting billboard at O’Hare airport. IBM suggests they can help “Remove the Blind Spots from Your Business” — by using Big Data and analytics. The visual of a man at a kind of virtual desktop that has visibility to ships, trucks, retail, and factories indicates that if you can just know more about what’s going on out there you’ll have nothing to worry about. If only that were so. I’m not bad rapping IBM here, I’m sure they can indeed provide lots of interesting insight using Big Data and analytics. Many companies would be well served to do a better job with this. Using




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    Let’s Tax the Boy Scouts

    Do you belong to a Credit Union? Many Americans do, about 97 million to be precise. A large number, although Credit Unions represent only 6% of financial transactions. I’m posting about credit unions because these beneficial organizations are under attack. The link to innovation is profound — credit unions are how many people establish their financial base. People with a financial leg to stand on are the kind of people who start businesses and fuel the economy. Have you ever heard the phrase “building up a stake?” You can’t start a new company, or even a family, with nothing. One must have at least seed money, or more, to get a start-up going. Credit Unions are a great way for




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