When I met John Carter – ex Chief Engineer of BOSE – he told me that he was on the team that created noise-cancelling earphones, a significant innovation in the industry.
Incidentally, when they set out to create the product, they weren’t looking to create noise-cancelling earphones, instead they were looking to produce higher fidelity sound.
I found that really interesting because I have noticed, throughout history, that a lot of innovation and discovery happens by accident.
If we create the space for innovation to occur, we can often be surprised by what reveals itself through that process of discovery, perseverance, and engineering.
John Carter speaks about BOSE’s intention to observe how customers interact with their products and services rather than actively demonstrating features and aspects of the product to them. They want to observe how customers interact and engage with their product rather than dictate the experience to customers.
BOSE were trying to understand:
- Did customers notice the innovation or new feature in the product?
- Did they value the new feature or enhanced experience at all?
- How did customers interact and engage with the product?
- What do customers do with the product?
- Do customers use the product in a different way to what engineers intended?
From my conversations with John Carter, this is one of the key elements of innovation at BOSE and informed a lot of the engineering and product decisions within the engineering team.
In my opinion, it is a great illustration of how we imagine a product or new feature may deliver value, yet we don’t often have the evidence to support that hypothesis.
A ‘build it and they will come’ approach is a dangerous way for companies to lead innovation.
If a senior manager, product stakeholder or executive imagines that their idea far outweighs actual feedback from customers, you are probably going to create something which customers don’t value.
One of the tools I value when it comes to innovation and product development is the ‘hypothesis prioritization canvas’ by Jeff Gothelf, popularized in the book Lean UX.
The authors propose that if organizations don’t have sufficient evidence that they can harvest value from the product, idea, or concept that they have, they need to run experiments to determine whether their hypothesis is true.
They encourage product owners, product stakeholders and engineers to invest time in conducting discovery and interviewing potential customers / end-users before pursuing product development.
If you do have significant evidence to support your hypothesis that customers will perceive and derive value from your product or feature, you should go ahead and build it.
The only caveat I have is that you should be careful about what you consider evidence to be.
Evidence isn’t opinions.
If you have people within the organization that consider their opinion or preferences to be evidence, you want to rethink that and pursue hard evidence. We need to get out of the building and discover quickly and effectively what potential or actual customers think about the product or feature.
You can do that by building a rapid prototype and putting that into the hands of customers or you can do that by allowing people to interact and engage with the concept. There are heaps of cheap experiments that you can run to test your idea and validate whether it resonates with customers.
So, experimentation is the key to unblocking the funnel of delivery and discovering those ideas or opportunities that are considered a great deal more valuable to actual customers and stakeholders than our initial ideas.
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