What's Missing?


When we are looking for patterns, trying to understand or discover customer needs, trying to learn something in general, we tend to look for what’s there.  We look for what we see, hear, touch, smell, taste – for what we observe.  This can take time and focus.  Sometimes we have to look at the negative space as well, the empty space around the ‘thing’ we are observing.   Negative space is used a lot in art and optical illusions.  For instance, look at this key, the logo for the American Institute for Architects in New York:

It looks like a key, right? But look at the cuts in the key’s blade – it’s the NYC skyline! If you took a quick look, you might not notice that it’s a skyline, let alone NYC’s.  So when we are looking, it’s important to look at the equivalent of the ‘negative space’ around the ‘thing’ we are observing.

But what if we ‘looked’ for what’s NOT there? What if we looked for what was missing?  This sounds strange – how can you look for something that’s not there?  Maybe we’re not actually ‘looking’ in the literal sense, but we are trying to see what is missing – what should/could/ought to be there but isn’t.  In Episode 7 of Serial*, one of the lawyers says, “That’s what we’re not seeing.”  Those few words stopped me in my tracks. 

What we are NOT seeing!  We are so used to looking and making sense of what’s there that we rarely stop and look at what’s NOT there… at what’s missing.   Ok, so you can’t see something that’s not there – but maybe you can!  Maybe you can ‘see’ what is normally, typically, usually there in a certain situation or circumstance.  Its absence should raise a flag.  If you question and examine, you’ll ask why something isn’t there, or isn’t there in a way it should be.  Ask Why.  Why didn’t this happen? Why wasn’t that there? Why wasn’t that used? Why wasn’t that tightened? Why wasn’t that next to this?

So the next time you’re observing to learn – to build a new product or service or feature, to understand a customer segment or need – ask yourself what’s missing.  Ask yourself what should be there that isn’t and ask why.  Who knows what you will discover!

 

*If you haven't listened to Serial yet, you must! Aside from the 'entertainment' value which is very high, the lessons on looking, observing, over-looking, ignoring, missing are applicable to so much of our lives - personally and professionally.

Have you figured out what’s missing in the picture of the robots at the top? Do you want to know? If yes, keep reading.  If no, STOP!

(Look at Robot Robbie's center graphic with the gears; there's only 1 red ‘canister’ on the right).

Big Data In Your Shampoo?

Did you wash your hair this morning? Did you know big data probably played a role in the viscosity and aroma? Maybe! This guest post by Amir Golan, VP of Business Development at Signals, shows how important it is to look for the small signals and patterns in big data that are easily lost. 

 

Interminable Growth Pains

Once upon a time, before the era of big data analytics, corporations had similarly routine business growth issues and threats: i.e.: after years of being the market leader in a specific product category, they quickly begin to lose market share, they wanted to introduce their product into a new market. In the case of the former, they typically would want to know why and how could they innovate their current product to regain their position as number one. Back then, they would run focus groups to see what customers liked/didn't like about the product and would check competitors that began to do well. Then, based on the insights drawn from this sample, the company would decide the reason for the recent losses and propose changing a feature to address that specific "pain." While it may have mitigated the clients' losses some of the time, the innovation was inevitably reactive, unscientific, and not robust nor holistic.

The Contemporary Picture and the Role of Big Data

Fast forward to today. While companies' stories start similarly, their approaches to research are completely different. Recently, a large consumer packaged goods company decided they wanted to enter the haircare world and they needed help defining the product opportunity. Through "listening" of social media, they were able to identify a need for a new type of hair product because consumers online (on Twitter, Facebook, forums) were complaining about having to mix hair wax with oil to get the texture they desire. By capturing these discussions, structuring them, and analyzing them, they then determined the size and depth of the “signal” and figured out that the demand for it was strong. By applying similar internet-scraping of competitor websites, articles, patent filings, job postings, and more, they were able to get a picture of what their competition was offering and what they were developing. By cross-analyzing the two, they determined the unmet need-- a real opportunity-- because they found a gap in the market; people wanted a hair product with a specific texture and no other companies sold or were planning to sell it.

They then took it one step further and asked, "How would you find the technology and material to meet this need?" Again, they scraped data from the open web on other industries' IP filings and academic publications providing the key feature they were looking for: a certain texture. After discovering a new material that achieves the same texture in a foot cream, they were able to shorten their time to market by finding and partnering with the leading researcher in developing this ingredient and launching their first hair product successfully. By constantly monitoring all of these data sources, the company was also alerted to new threats entering the product category, so that they could adjust proactively.

It's this sort of product intelligence, capitalizing on the infinite amounts of big data available on the open web paired with the right solutions and tools, that is enabling companies to innovate and launch better more successful products. But what is it exactly?

Product Intelligence: What Is It?

While historically easier said than done, the work this company did to increase certainty and decrease risk in new product development is increasingly feasible. Enter Product Intelligence: a new hybrid intelligence emerging from the smoke and mirrors of the Big Data and innovation jargon, that proves to be a little more practical and actionable. It provides highly targeted, real-time intelligence that serves up insights INSIDE of the new product development process at the exact moment when conclusive, authoritative insight is most needed;  when it’s literally make or break.

The secret is in connecting the analyses and insights derived from Big Data to real NPD and innovation decisions. Product Intelligence makes the stars align, ensuring that the relevant signals (i.e.: the desired hair product texture) from the right types of data (i.e.: millions of conversations on hair products) are connected together to bring the best insights to the right decision maker at the topical moment in the NPD decision process.  

So, how would you prepare for a stage gate meeting that includes a "Go/No-Go" decision on continuing to develop a specific product? Either as a member of the product team or as the "gate keeper," you might make this decision based on a gut feeling, prior experience, a partial understanding of the ecosystem, OR, increasingly, based on Product Intelligence.

Decision-makers are reveling over this research approach and solution that systematically provides a stream of evidence-backed insights that support the gate meeting's key questions, therefore reducing uncertainty and risk and optimizing the chance of developing successful products.

How Does This Change the New Product Development Process?

Let’s take it one layer deeper, and try to understand why this brings something novel and different to current approaches to research for new product development, both internal and outsourced 

Technology + Methodology

Some big data folks say “it’s the algorithm” and they are only partially right. Just as crucial is the methodology- asking the right questions from the outset that are relevant to the gate decision. That is, the decision drives the data to be collected and the questions to be asked. Then, Product Intelligence connects those questions to the right analytical models and identifies the most relevant data sources to populate the models. Instead of boiling the "big data ocean," Product Intelligence can identify the exact parameters of the needs, wants, technologies, requirements, and IP supporting a new product and optimizing its success.

Robust + Comprehensive Insights

Another major differentiator is that decision makers can rely on and feel confident with the evidence- the robustness and comprehensiveness of the evidence and insights extracted from big data increases certainty in innovation decisions. In our hair product story, for example, the product team needed a good understanding of their target consumers in order to validate their hair product needs before they progressed to the next phase. You can use traditional research methods and interview 25 people or perhaps create an expensive program and bring 500 people to focus groups. Or you can do what they did and "listen" to 1,000,000 different voices from forums to key opinion lenders and potential consumers and connect the dots between them. The layering of these unstructured voices with other structured data sets (i.e.: polls) creates a holistic and robust view of consumer segments and their needs, both met and unmet.

Reduce Investments of Time + Money

Our CPG product team was also able to dramatically reduce the investment of time and money on irrelevant concepts early on in the process. Instead of deciding to rebrand or develop a different hair product with the same texture, they understood that the texture was the reason for the loss of market share and were able to quickly and easily tweak their existing product to meet the need, provide value to the customer, and regain market share.

Real-Time Ecosystem Monitoring + Topical Decision-Making

Another unique feature of Product Intelligence is the ability to constantly monitor and update these insights in real time, which allows corporations to keep up with their rapidly-evolving ecosystems, know about threats (and opportunities) before it's too late, and strategically and proactively plan to avoid or capitalize on them.

 

Amir Golan is the VP of Business Development at Signals Intelligence Group Ltd. He manages strategic accounts and oversees Signals’s partnership program. Prior to joining Signals, Amir worked at different strategic consulting firms and worked in a variety of intelligence frameworks. Amir served as a member of the Board of Directors and of the Finance committee of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange-listed ISSTA-Lines LTD (ISTA.P) Amir earned his MBA and BA in Political Science and Middle Eastern studies from Ben Gurion University in the Negev. Follow Amir at @golan_amir.

Paradoxical Oxymorons of the 21st Century

Does it seem like the 21st Century is the century of oxymorons and paradoxes? Sure does to me and I love these words because they challenge our thinking, our beliefs, our feelings and the status quo.

Look at a few of the ones we use: Job Security, Jobless Recovery, Criminal Justice, Great Depression, Graphic Language, Organized Chaos, Budget Deficit (and many government related ones for the “realistic cynics”). Saul Kaplan tweeted one of my favorites “Being an innovator is both a blessing (always finding a better way) & a curse (job is never done)”.

It’s the denotation, not connotation that makes these phrases oxymorons. We use them unwittingly – not really thinking about the inherent paradox, and implications, in our every day language. We have become inured to the real meaning. But does this translate to how we approach innovation or strategy? Rarely! When looking at innovation opportunities, oxymorons and paradoxes are used as barriers: how can we really put a process & discipline to innovation? How can we support open innovation and retain our intellectual property? What we miss is that inherent is an oxymoron or paradox lays the opportunity to innovate! It’s the AND, the BOTH, not the Either/Or.

One of my very dear friends is my archetype for oxymoron and paradox. Matt is the 3rdgeneration running his family’s business, Thogus. He has created amazing new business models, new approaches to existing and new markets, fired customers that didn’t fit the new paradigm, sees the world as it could and should be and is making that real. He doesn’t hesitate to try, experiment, prototype, iterate unceasingly. He embodies invention and innovation in how he manages the business, including how he defines management itself (see Chapter 11 of Radical Management by Steve Denning). Result? Matt has doubled the business and dramatically improved the culture since he took over from his mother 2 years ago. Pretty radical huh? And he is. And every morning, Matt has the same breakfast, gets to the office the same time, drives the same way – lots of ‘same’ in his life. Matt is a paradox – he is extremely innovative and creative AND very tied to, dependent upon, daily habits and patterns. It’s hard to argue with either of these traits and its successes.

What are the oxymorons and paradoxes in your business? Your organization? You? How can you embrace them, find the opportunities within them, celebrate them, make more of them? Please share your thoughts and comments here or email me if you want, but let’s start collecting some of the great oxymorons of the 21st Century!!!

Paradox of Innovation and Status Quo

As much as I love change, innovation, #RCUS (Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects per Saul Kaplan) and challenging the Status Quo, I realized how much the comfort and haven of some Status Quo means to me as we got settled at our place in Maine.  The familiar faces in our little grocery store and post office, seeing long-time friends, the same lobster boats and buoys in the harbour provide a sense of calm, certainty, stability that, paradoxically, frees me to challenge, change, and innovate.

Yet there is still constant change.  In Maine, it's in the water.  Several years ago, an old lobsterman had the most elaborate buoys: stripe of red, stripe of white, stripe of red with something different painted in the stripe of white every year such as a buoy, a lobster, and after 9/11, the American Flag. Our kids got one of his buoys every year.   One year, there were about half the number of his buoys in the bay.  When we saw him at the Co-Op, he informed us his wife had died that winter and he just wasn't up to it.  He looked frail.  The next year, his boat wasn't in the harbour and there were no buoys.  He had died that winter.  There were new boats and buoys in the harbour.  Death and renewal.

What does this have to do with innovation, business, anything? I think a lot on (at least) two levels:

  1. While we have to embrace the increasing velocity of change and uncertainty for meaningful, effective innovation, change for change's sake is not the goal.   Sometimes the way it is now is really ok.  We need to discern the difference and continually re-evaluate.  Nothing stays totally the same forever.  While the islands, shoals, and hidden rocks are still there, their contours have changed, perhaps ever so slightly, due to the tides, the weather - due to just being there.
  2. We need to start looking for subtle changes and patterns that provide enormous opportunities.  Most non-locals here in Pemaquid probably don't even notice the changes in lobster boats and buoys - but they are significant indicators of shifts (and generations).  While boats and buoys are tangible, many times the patterns are in the intangibles, which is harder to perceive (and measure).

So, I leave you with two challenges as you go on your summer vacations, kids baseball and soccer games, walks down the halls at work, visits to plants, boarding planes, even daily commutes:

  1. Identify the constants in your life, your work, that are working well and that aren't. Do they need to be changed? Do they provide the stability that allows innovation or do they impede it?
  2. Look for subtle patterns and changes - especially in places you don't normally look and think about what opportunities can arise from these.

Please feel free to share your learnings with your fellow readers either through comments here or on twitter at @dscofield or email me