Find the Pebble…Solve the Problem

September 29, 2014 − by Jeff Bierer − in Ideation, Innovation, Problem Solving, Research − Comments Off on Find the Pebble…Solve the Problem

Tell me if this is familiar to you.  Your team is charged with coming up with the next new product to drive revenue.  Or maybe you’ve been asked to differentiate your customer experience.   What do you do?  You might host Ideation Sessions and maybe even hire Creativity Consultants.  You hop on a jet for customer focus groups to ask what they want and what will delight them.   This is a pretty traditional product management approach and use of consumer research.

But, how often does this deliver breakthrough innovation?  When do you come up with actionable customer service protocols that make a difference?  I’ve worked with teams at major companies including Bank of America, Pfizer, Family Dollar and Electrolux.  Lots of time and money is spent on going down these pathways, yet all too often we fail to achieve the breakthrough and settle for modest enhancements.

Now more than ever I’m convinced that there’s a simple process for developing break-through product innovation and service delivery – FIND THE PEBBLE!

We’ve all had the experience of walking somewhere and being annoyed with a small pebble that somehow has worked its way into our shoe and under our foot.  No matter how rushed we are or who we’re with we stop, take off our shoe and find and remove the pebble.  We have to, it is too annoying.  Annoyance is a compelling force; it wears us down leaving us to flee or fight – get away from what’s annoying us or eliminate the annoyance.

I’ve observed two things that I’ve confirmed in hundreds of focus groups and customer interviews.  People tend to be very poor at dreaming of the next iPad or GoPro but they are wonderful at telling you what annoys them about everything.  Think I’m kidding?  Try this experiment next time you are in an elevator with strangers.  Ask them what really annoys them about buying a coffee at StarBucks or bringing their car in for repairs.  A warning though; don’t attempt this in a high rise.  You won’t want to be stuck on a long elevator ride listening to these common annoyances.

Think about it.  We’re all experts in what’s wrong with things we use and experience.  We don’t need to be engineers or marketers.  As a matter of fact, you are far better off steering the people you interview away from responding as engineers and marketers.  Solutions conjured by consumers that have wide appeal, can work and are affordable are few and far between.  You’ll come up with a gem every now and then but you’ll have far greater success finding the pebble.  Break down exactly what annoys them about the products they use.  I’ve used Laddering approaches to dive down to the root causes of the annoyance.

And just as every pebble is not the same size, not every annoyance represents the same opportunity.  Another piece of the puzzle is determining to what the annoyance is connected and how meaningful it is.  When using my Pebble Technique I identify an annoyance, track it to specific features and explore how it negatively impacts the product (or service) benefits they were seeking along with any emotional impact.

Now you really have something fruitful you can use to begin ideation.  Once you’ve found the pebble, you can assemble your product managers, engineers and marketers and brainstorm solutions.

I’d love to hear from you on the MOST annoying things you’ve come across with products and service you use.  I’d especially love hearing from you with any solutions you’ve seen put in place for these damn annoying pebbles!