Shift Time Frames to Future and Past

New Product Development

One method to free up ideators from the bounds of today’s traditional designs is to specifically ask for ideas that will not be relevant-until some future date (i.e., 5 or 10 years into the future), or as Google X  Lab defines it, “science fiction-sounding solutions.” This further-into-the-future  thinking may relax  the normal constraints associated with developing a novel design. Moreover, this shift in time focus may eliminate one’s common self-imposed restriction on new  ideas to merely those where the ideas can envision a path to fulfillment. Innovators’ prescribed imagination is the killer of radical ideas. Therefore, top management should find ways to remove mental boundaries by allowing the innovation team to generate ideas that will not be feasible in the near future. The following steps should be taken when implementing this change in time frames:

  1. Specific future time frames.  Instead of just having the NPD teams think about products that will be developed in the future ,specific challenges should be created for unique time frames (i.e., unique challenges for products that could be available in 5 years, 10 years, 25 years, etc.) These challenges can be technological, such as amputees who control a fully functional hand that can handle delicate objects with their brains, or cloths made of fiber-based nanogenerators that provide a flexible, foldable, and wearable power source that allows people to generate their own electrical current while walking, and harvest/storing the power generated  for later use. These challenges also can be related to social acceptance, as we see happening now with Google, which raise concerns over privacy and safety; or related to the law, as is the case of the driverless car and the legal questions that arise.
  2. Look into the past. In order to get some sense of where new technologies might come from, an interesting approach is to examine where current technologies came from, So much of what is included in today’s products is taken for granted. If one examines the history behind these technologies to identify the original purpose for which the technology was developed, one can gain insights into the seemingly idiosyncratic development of current technologies. Many of these technologies were likely intended for industries other than the ones they ended up being used in.
  3. Create a pictorial archive. One method that can be used to examine changes over time it to document the history of those changes in as easy to display manner. The idea is to capture every form of all competing products in the industry, going back to the introduction of the product category. These pictures should be captured and displayed in such a way that the history and development of the category can be easily examined.

Promote an Emerging Technology Focus across the Consumption Chain

One way to promote uniqueness is to fuse the process with a particular emerging technology and ask how that emerging technology could be used in the local domain. Another way is to attempt to hack together  two emerging technologies and then place the outcome in a specific domain (related to the company’s core industry). In addition, technological road  maps can be created for all potential emerging technologies that may impact the industry, consequently promoting combinations of several emerging technologies in a novel design challenge.

The idea to focus on new technologies is similar to the blue ocean concept in which innovators create new industries rather than compete with current players. Nintendo’s Wii console is a perfect example. The company did not wish to directly compete with Sony’s PlayStation or Microsoft’s Xbox in terms of the resolution and animation of the games. Instead, Nintendo created a new control and thus appealed to segments new to the video game industry (women and older folks).  By promoting a focus on emerging technologies, firms can reconstruct market boundaries and introduce novelty. New product developers can use cross- conventional technologies to create new demand in a new, unknown space, rather than compete over existing markets. This emerging technology focus in the design process will lead to innovative developments. The following steps should be taken when implementing the emerging technology focus:

Identify steps in consumer consumption chain. The first step here is to identify the steps associated with consumers’ consumption chain (MacMillan & McGrath,1997). Then for each step within the consumption chain(Table 1.1), the NPD team can identify emerging technologies that are likely to have an impact on how consumers make decisions at those different stages. Strategically thinking about the various steps consumers go through when interacting with a product enables the development team to creatively enhance the consumer experience every step of the way with unconventional technological solutions.

Mix  and  match technologies. Those emerging technologies that the team has identified then become the focal technologies. Next, the team should examine and list implications for mixing and matching different technologies together to come up with radically new product ideas. As a simple example we may consider two “hot” ideas: 3D printers and same-day delivery. How can we combine these to create a meaningful radical new product? One idea is that for simple products the designer can send the client a file to be printed at the client’s  3D printer – delivery is immediate. The beauty of this example is that it hacks together two seemingly unrelated products/services to create a potentially meaningful offering.

Table 1.1 Steps in the Consumer Consumption Chain

How do people become aware of their need for your product or service?
How do consumers find your offerings?
How do consumers make their final selection?
How do consumers order and purchase your product or service?
How is your product or service delivered?
How is your product installed?
How is your product or service paid for?
How is your product stored?
How is your product moved around?
What is the consumer really using your product for?
What do consumers need help with when they use your product?
What about returns or exchanges?
How is your product repaired or serviced?
What happens when your product is disposed of or no longer used?