Product Innovation—the Elevator Pitch

I was in New York this week and came to think of three very different product innovation problems, stemming from three different root causes. It will be great to get your examples for product innovation issues so I can learn as well…

The first one has to do with one of the simplest products to operate by the user: an elevator. What I am about to describe now happened to every single one of you. Guaranteed. You go in the elevator and press on your floor button. Say 47. The full elevator is getting empty around floor 12, but floors 13, 14 and 41 buttons are lit. You really want to get to your room (you know, nature calls after a long day out) but the mindless lift will stop four times before you get there. Why four if only 3 extra buttons were pressed? Aha… This is the man in the 37th that pressed both up and down buttons when he actually wanted to go down and now is showing you a blank face. How come there is no “Cancel” button that allows you to cancel the unneeded stops or the up button that was mistakenly pressed???

Here is my interpretation for the reason: elevator manufacturers think their product is so simple that they don’t need any user facing research. They invest in safety (thanks god), maintenance or an even better scheduling system, but not in a simple user research that will reveal needs like this. The user is not their client, so why should they care about him? What’s the lesson: it doesn’t matter how simple you think your product is. Go talk with your end users all the time. In a market with 100 kinds of pastrami, no one will buy again the kind that takes kid size fingers with bionic strength to open…

Here is another example and a different story. When do you need your GPS most? When you drive under time pressure in an area far from home. This was me last week in NYC. My Telenav GPS was exactly what I needed: working as “SaaS,” it is always connected to the cellular web and it is supposed to have a super updated POI (points of interest) database and to always find the fastest route, traffic optimized. The machine disappointed me twice: One of my meetings was in a hotel near the Newark airport. The hotel has been there for 30 years or so, but the GPS sent me to downtown Newark. This can happen—no issue with that, but why doesn’t Telenav allow a quick way to report the error? Since it is always online, my report could have been checked in less than a day and fixed for every Telenav user that same day. Why doesn’t Telenav have this feature? Because they look only at other GPS manufacturers as a benchmark. If they had looked at Amazon they would have thought of adding rating to restaurants, and a quick look at hundreds of web 2.0 sites could have created the “flag this POI as a mistake” option.

The second GPS glitch happened just afterwards—I was trying to get from Newark to JFK, and the GPS tried to take me through Manhattan and claimed my total journey would take an hour and 15 minutes. Anyone of the 30M people living in greater NYC knows that going through the city between 6:00 AM and 11:00 PM cannot take less than an hour on weekdays. Telenav could have figured it out without even leaving Cupertino, CA: all they need to do is analyze the data they store (all the trips are calculated on their servers) and see that trips that go through Manhattan always take twice the original estimate and add a simple change to the algorithm to fix it.

What’s the lesson? More and more companies have more and more raw data they can use (every company has a website, for example. With Google analytics you can learn so much about the demographics of the people interested in you). The data is out there. It is actually all over. Use it to create a better product.

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Product Innovation—the Elevator Pitch

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