I started a project for a new client yesterday. As I went out to do the first pilot interview, I was really asking myself, how can I get anybody to talk about a product such as this? I’ve researched dozens and dozens of different products in the field. It’s easy to get opinions and watch somebody use something like a lawnmower, or a blender. There’s a set process around a product like that, so its easy to get a consumer to engage the product and let me learn from observation and interview. But what do you do when you want to innovate a low interaction type of product like a doorknob? Just for the record, this new client does not make doorknobs, but it seemed an apt analogy.
First of all, I have to commend a door knob manufacturer for even caring about innovation. Often times, they’ve resigned themselves to only follow fashion trends for any type of variation. In the world of knobs, you’ve got shape and finish, and you know that you must follow other elements of hardware that exist in consumers’ homes. The result is a follower strategy, staying in business by keeping up with other companies that closely follow trends.
But how do you innovate such a product and break out of the follower strategy? You have to realize that while a doorknob is a low interaction, low interest product in and of itself, it is a member of a larger “ecosystem” from a consumer standpoint. A doorknob has fundamental purposes (e.g. allowing you to open a door on demand while preventing the door from opening on its own, allows you to pull a door open, etc). Zoom out a bit and your begin to see that it also resides in the realm of security, access, decor, environmental control, safety, etc. When you think in these terms, you can identify other products that also exist in the same ecosystem. Once identified, ways to combine or connect seemingly unrelated products come to mind. And that’s where innovation begins.
You may work for a company that makes “doorknobs”. As such you may believe that there’s no real opportunity for change in your category. If that’s the case, zoom out, look at the bigger picture, see what other products are in the same ecosystem and start your thinking there. You’ll be amazed at the opportunities that surface.