In most cases consumer input is, or should be, a critical part of the
concept development phase. But the deal's off when it comes to identifying
breakthrough innovation. The very individuals that later will become hard-core
users lack the imagination to envision even the need for the kinds of
discontinuous, out-of-the-blue leaps of intuition that disrupt the orderly,
predictable evolution of technology.
Better to follow the leaders. Concentrate NPD efforts on discovering who's
behind several emerging technologies that are somehow relevant to the
corporate mission. Identify the leading edge influentials working the
vanguard of the next-big-technology. Get them to share -- with your team
and other hotshots from peripheral technologies -- their visions of the
commercial applications of the new science they're concocting. From
the mind-meld comes an eclectic assortment of weird-science and wow ideas.
And the kind of breakthrough innovation that leapfrogs the orderly, predictable
kinds of technological evolution.
When it comes to identifying discontinuous forms of innovation, leading
edge influentials -- the foremost scientists, brightest academicians and
most prominent lead users/gatekeepers working on the forefront of the
next-big-technology are the only ones that count. Their impact on the
pure-science and technology emerging under their supervision will create
the platforms from which first generations of commercial applications
Although individually the Leading Edge may have considered neither the
impact their brainchild will have on converging technologies nor the commercial
applications of interest to NPD managers, an interactive exchange between
inventors and commercializers seems to precipitate a collection of "what-if..."
scenarios that have an uncanny way of becoming real-world realties. From
their perceptions of tomorrow's technology it's possible to envision
-- today -- pragmatic new product applications that represent first-to-market
Identifying the leading edge influentials is a lot like finding needles
in a haystack. There aren't many. And there's no convenient list
of "Who's Who On the Leading Edge Of Mission Relevant Technology."
To create "The List" a networking process augmented by a literature
search of scientific journals and published papers is used. The effort
asks internal managers, vendor/suppliers, industry watchers, editors,
academicians and scientists to identify the individuals they look to for
project relevant expertise. Ultimately the networking effort generates
a consensus of opinion as to the identity of the elite handful of scientists,
academics, gatekeepers and commercial users who are acknowledged by peers
to be "the leading edge."
The next step is to get the elite to share their expertise with their
colleagues and the client's technical, research and marketing personnel
in interactive workshops. The information capture includes assessments
of current state-of-the-art and probable next-step developments...visions
and scenarios of the future...key concerns...unresolved tech needs...anticipated
consumer utility and an unanticipated potpourri of ideas 'n issues.
Harnessed by specific inquiries the makers & shakers casually spin
off mind-boggling future-forward scenarios as well as real-world solutions
to client-identified problems. Ultimately the fusion of pure science,
commercial application and end-user reality defines highly innovative
-- and eminently workable -- new product concepts. Firm tech specifications.
And occasionally on-the-spot product prototypes.
A full decade before current commercial adaptations began appearing on
supermarket shelves, the tool identified -- for General Foods -- the potential
for "pharmaceutical foods" engineered to promote health &
well-being: beta carotene as an antioxidant...fish oil and oat bran's
impact on serum cholesterol...calcium's role in the inhibition of
osteoporosis. The tool generated six Photo Refractive Keratectomy (laser
sculpting of the cornea) operative/post-operative new product concepts
for Allergan's Pharmaceutical division. Developed -- for Colgate --
a hi-tech toothbrush to clean below the gum line and inhibit periodontal
disease. Created the billion dollar mini-napkin segment of the feminine
hygiene market -- Lightdays by Kotex.
Potential applications for the kinds of discontinuous innovation served
by the tool include Canon's ES5000 Eye Control camcorder (user eye-activated
focus). Quicken's Intuit (CD-ROM online banking). The Habitrol Nicotine
Patch. In the hands of Wall Streeters it could have created Derivatives
-- the junk bond of the 90s. The commonality? Until these forms of discontinuous
innovation became a tangible reality consumers had not the slightest inkling
of the need they served. They were superfluous to concept generation efforts.
© 2002 Polaris Marketing All Rights Reserved