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Experience Innovation

Moore observed, nearly a half century ago, that the power of computational devices would double every 18 months (based on how many components could be squeezed onto an integrated circuit). Therefore, it is not much of a leap to suggest that the functional capabilities and ability to advance productivity based upon these devices would follow suit. For the most part, this has been the case. Now 50 years in, the simple question is: ‘is innovation still about squeezing more components into a device, or capabilities into a piece of software?’ Or, is it time to refocus? Maybe we need to think about making the devices and systems we have work better and more strongly consider the experience of the person using it.

I am completely willing to be wrong here, but I would need some convincing. I am not so bold as to suggest something at the level of Clay Christensen’s disruptive innovation. I am not talking about new markets. What I am suggesting is something more along the lines of rethinking sustainable innovation; the ability to evolve what we have already. To accomplish this, I am of the opinion that it is time to start focusing on experience innovation, and take a step back from the sole focus on product innovation. It is no longer about how much computational power we can squeeze into a device, or how many widgets we can display on a screen. This type of innovation will continue, but there is more.

“The experience space is conceptually distinct from that of the product space, which is the conventional focus of innovation. In the experience space, the individual consumer is central, and an event triggers a co-creation experience. The events have a context in space and time, and the involvement of the individual influences that experience. The personal meaning derived from the co-creation experience is what determines the value to the individual.”

C.K. Prahalad & Venkatram Ramaswamy, MIT Sloan Management Review, SUMMER 2003 VOL.44 NO.4 The New Frontier of Experience Innovation

I am not sure what is more interesting, the content itself or the fact that it was written nearly 10 years ago.  It might suggest that I am on to something, or simply that I found a few bits to support my thinking. The concepts are extremely relevant, even more at this point in time as companies struggle to differentiate themselves on increasingly commoditized products and dare I say services as well. In fairness, differentiation on services still has some legs and is more closely aligned to experience innovation.

The way I see it, is that the objective is to create what Prahalad and Ramaswamy refer to as an experience environment. Though it is still important to differentiate between the digital interaction experiences and the much more vast customer experience. This is especially true in instances where the greater experience contains elements that are far removed from communications, think heli-skiing or windsurfing, versus checking-in via Foursquare.

It is Time to Mature from Just Product Innovation

If one follows the breadcrumbs a bit, there is a fun example that can be found from a 2008 InfoWorld article. It simply highlights that too often software – the front end of the user experience – simply works to leverage hardware advances in a way that is often lazy and unfortunate:

“[Microsoft] Vista and Office 2007 on today’s [2008] state-of-the-art hardware delivers throughput that’s still only 22 percent slower than Windows XP and Office 2003 on the previous generation of state-of-the-art hardware. In other words, the hardware gets faster, the code base gets fatter, and the user experience, as measured in terms of application response times and overall execution throughput, remains relatively intact.”

Many of us have spent time reading, writing or analyzing product roadmaps. These directory type documents or PowerPoint presentations are filled with features and functions. Sometimes, the ones that are well written will include a section on exactly why a feature is included, beyond simply that a Magic Quadrant requires it. For those who have been lucky enough to write these documents, we all know the debates between internal factions of what needs to be built first and why. These debates will continue to happen, but I would ask that the conversation mature a bit.

As Prahalad & Ramaswamy so eloquently state it:

The ability to imagine and combine technological capabilities to facilitate experiences will be a key success factor in experience innovation, regardless of industry.

In order to make progress, what is needed are programs that focus on the customer perspective. We need to consider the user experience as we build devices and design software systems. We need to focus on their experience, not just our profits. We need an environment that includes both organizational capabilities in technology and communications driving the capability to interact collaboratively internally as well as with customers, partners through community. These interactions, in order to be meaningful, need to have proper context.  When we have this in place, then we will better be able to understand what customers want and need and deliver products and experiences that do make a difference.

Your thoughts?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Mike Boysen (@mikeboysen) March 11, 2013, 6:37 PM

    This is an interesting topic. I don’t view a “feature” as a sustaining innovation all by itself. The word “innovation”, to me, describes “experience” because I view innovation through the lens of outcomes used to measure how well a job gets done (e.g. outcome-driven innovation). Thinking this way, a feature (or combination of features) is designed to help get a job done better than the competition (for a particular situation or customer group). There are emotional and social implications to this, both of which contribute to the outcomes…and the experience.

    If you look at the case Strategyn uses for the Bosch circular saw (see http://t.co/1xOiSwVE5f for a quick rehash) the job was to cut a straight line. If you do it better than before, it creates a better experience. If you have a power cord that is detachable and can be replaced, is that not a better experience than replacing the entire saw each time you cut your power cord by accident?

    In the service world, the same holds true. Starbucks didn’t create an experience just by charging more (a feature) and putting couches in their store (a feature). They were specifically focused on helping a group of customers get functional jobs done, wrapped in emotional and social jobs. For some reason this didn’t work for me; I have a completely opposite experience than their target customers :)

    I think the innovation focus is the problem, not that experience is excluded from product innovation. Focusing on ideas is very popular. Instead, focus on the needs (functional, emotional and social). If you are not getting a better experience (or set of outcomes) when consuming a product or service, then is the new feature really innovative at all? My answer would be no, and it is all too common to see; as you have pointed out.

    • Mitch Lieberman March 12, 2013, 7:36 AM

      Mike,

      Thanks for the comments, I agree with your observations, but we are possibly splitting hairs a bit. For example, I would say that Starbucks is enhancing the experience of its customers without touching the core product coffee – they are just making coffee drinking a bit more enjoyable and easier. In the software world, to pull in Martin’s comment, they did not spend a silly amount of time and money on the coffee itself.

      I believe your thoughts and mine are quite similar. Stated a different way, maybe too many people associate innovation with revolution, where they should be considering evolution. Cutting a straight line, well, straight, better is not the only objective. Doing 50 times a day, day after day is part of the experience too.

      Mitch

      • Mike Boysen (@mikeboysen) March 12, 2013, 8:25 AM

        The experience is part of the product. If a bunch of technologists with a set of skills design a product based on what “they can do” instead of “what customers want” they have a one in a million chance of getting it right. I’m just saying the correct innovation focus incorporates experience in the design simply because it has focused on desired outcomes used to measure the success of getting a job done. There is always more than a functional component. Determining “what” the experience components are is not something we should be “ideating.” I believe the correct innovation process, or framework (a system), will give us a much better success rate.

        “they are just making coffee drinking a bit more enjoyable and easier”

        They are doing so much more. The “job” is not drinking coffee. In fact, for some it might be getting free Wifi, with a little coffee on the side (which is is a pricing dilemma!)

  • mschneidersugar March 11, 2013, 6:52 PM

    Good points to both Mitch and Mike… To put this more overtly in the context of enterprise software – I think there were a lot of reasons why the maturity of tools like CRM got so out of whack. The rigid structure of data backends (SQL-based) and the need to “enterprise class” tools to rectify high price tags (the “Siebelization” of software) created both necessary arbitrarily complex systems.

    Today, we are lucky that near-ubiquitous web connectivity, better devices and touch points (vs. the “agent desktop” of 1995-2009 or so), and more unstructured data-friendly back ends mean we can create “experiences” rather than “screens.”

    To make myself a little more clear – I think we are going to be focusing more on the points you both mention more be default, not necessarily by design. The simple fact that “features” are in general less desired over function means experience will be a deciding factor in a lot of vendor selection at even the highest enterprise level.

    Look at SAP, they have very, very complex software. Yet, they looked to one of their less complex acquisitions, an HR platform in SuccessFactors – to lead new UI design. Why? Because the HR tool was built with PEOPLE/Users in mind, not “transactions.”

    We are slowly, but hopefully surely, getting to a place where common sense is driving product design – not the notion of making “enterprise class” software.

    • Mitch Lieberman March 12, 2013, 7:44 AM

      Martin,

      Thanks and yes.

      The only point I will make, which I will save you from having to make (for two obvious reasons) is that many in the analyst world (current company excluded of course) drive the feature function battles to fit into quadrants. The theory was of course that the customers desired those features, but it also became a bit convoluted.

      My concern is the old ‘Coke v Pepsi’ test in decision making. Really good design is not always obvious at first use. Just because the first hour or two are great and awesome, does not always mean the the use over time is well represented. The reference to the Coke v Pepsi is that while Pepsi ‘won’ the taste tastes, when the same test was repeated with full cans, Coke was the winner.

      I do hope that we are progressing to that point of common sense – I really do hope!

      Mitch