Had a four hour flight recently that allowed me to dig deep into Design Driven Innovation: Changing the Rules of Competition by Radically Innovating What Things Mean.  I continue to believe that all of us are in organizations that have limited understanding, often an antiquated understanding of why people really buy what we’re selling.  Why does this happen?  What are the consequences?  It’s serious and it happens to all of us.

A limited understanding of why people buy what we’re selling comes into play and has serious consequences when we continue to offer incremental innovations of a product that attracted a market share based on an outdated meaning.  An example of this might be the transition of music listening from large console pieces of furniture to modular and then modular to portable.  On the other hand, Apple unleashed a new meaning when they launched the iPod and iTunes, allowing consumers to create their own playlists, share their own music.

We can break out of an old mold when we practice design-driven innovation.  In design-driven innovation several questions can be asked to ignite a process (from Design Driven Innovation, page 220):

  • What is the deepest reason people will buy our product?
  • What meaning could they be looking for?
  • How can we gratify them and make them more content by providing products that suggest new meanings?

This is a version of what Clayton Christensen described in his framework based on the “job to be done.”  In a design-driven innovation sense he has “supported the importance of targeting meanings and understanding what people are really trying to achieve when they buy products (p. 28, Design Driven Innovation).”

So, an example from our world?  Many of our organizations are still operating on the notion that people (our customers) buy what we’re selling because they know intuitively that what they need is God and God is found in a church.  Reality?  What if the deeper meaning is that people aren’t looking for God but for contentment or joy?  Does the market share lag have more to do with a tired or inaccurate meaning than anything else?  I suspect it does and encourage you to probe deeply into the deepest reason people will buy your product and what meaning they are really looking for.  That is the way to next.

Questions That Ignite Design-Driven Innovation