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Innovation Insights
by Stephen Shapiro


13. Lessons from Indiana Jones®

Tip 13 from Best Practices are Stupid. Here I explore the lessons from one of my favorite movies of all time.

In 1989’s “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” the nerdy archeology professor Indiana Jones advises students to “forget any ideas you’ve got about lost cities, exotic travel and digging up the world. We do not follow maps to buried treasure, and ‘X’ never, ever marks the spot.”

In today’s world of data mining and customer analytics, it can be easy to study your customers from the comfort of your desk. But most likely you are only gathering data about YOUR customers. As a result, you are missing the data of former customers and people who never were customers.  As for your current customers, you will only be able to analyze their activities associated with your existing products and services; you won’t be able to identify unarticulated needs.

The real treasure can be found when you leave your office, don your fedora and bullwhip, and study customers with your own two eyes.
Anthropologists and innovation experts call this ethnography, a term used to describe any research where the purpose is to provide an in-depth description of everyday life and practices.

Instead of asking your customers questions or analyzing data, you observe them. By doing this you can find their unarticulated wants and needs.

These studies can also lead to interesting process improvements.  A manufacturer of copying machines wanted to speed up the time it took for a technician to perform copier repairs. While observing customers using their equipment, the company discovered that most repairs were relatively simple, but customers were clueless as to how to fix the problem on their own. The solution?  They supplied customers with detailed instructions on how to fix the most common jamming problems so that the customers, not technicians, could solve those problems immediately.

Whirlpool developed pedestals and storage units for its Duet front-loading washers and dryers by observing a woman who had placed her dryer upon cinderblocks to make it easier to load and unload without having to bend over.  Although the primary benefit of pedestals is to raise the appliances about a foot off the floor, making it easier to load and unload, the additional weight also helps anchor the machine, minimizing “washer walk.”  In addition, the drawers that slide out from the pedestals provide an out-of-the-way space to store bottles of laundry detergent, bleach, and fabric softener.

Get out from behind your computer and see the world – and your customers – with fresh eyes.  In doing this you are sure to discover opportunities you never expected.  And in the process you might just find gold.

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