A Recipe for Preventing Innovation

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by: C. Sven Johnson

With all the discussion about “design thinking” and “innovation”, I found some quotes in an article on Appliance Magazine’s website that are probably more mainstream than the “hype” crowd would care to admit.

In a piece about conceptual appliances, “Conceptual Transformation” (Link), this quote from Matthew Kueny, the head of new product development at Miele USA, had me do a double-take:

I think that the biggest challenge is dealing with consumer habits. If a consumer has to learn to use a product differently it is going to be difficult to sell. You really have to find a way to integrate new concepts and designs into products that don’t try to change user habits and still fit what a consumer is used to.


Sorry, but that sounds to me like a recipe for bottom-feeding… which probably includes a healthy dollop of focus group worthless.

When I think of highly-innovative products cited as examples of excellence in design – the Swiffer, the iPod, the Dyson vacuum – they don’t follow his safe recipe for success. They’re often the kinds of products I expect from smart development exercises (e.g. “consumer encounters” – PDF) or passionate individuals. They take smart chances; intelligent risks. Because sometimes what’s needed are products that break from tradition, overcome bad habits and actually provide an innovative solution.

Maybe I just need someone to point me to a Miele offering that can share the stage with those products, because while I don’t doubt Miele makes a fine quality product, I don’t see much in their product line that gets me excited or interested. Anyone?

Equally alarming to me is this subsequent quote:

You can come up with a great concept, but then you have to deal with the reality of bringing the product to market, and that process can alter the design rather dramatically.


Too bad someone didn’t tell the decision-makers behind the much-maligned Pontiac Aztek how that sort of thing can work against a company (references: Link 1, Link 2).

Too late for second-place GM, perhaps, so instead someone might want to inform Kueny that “dramatically” changing a concept means that it might no longer be that thing which excited people and which got the project started in the first place. One would think that with 6-7 year development times, the end result would remain true to the original intent. Unfortunate if that’s not the case. And personally, I wonder if a project doesn’t usually lose its way after all that time in development. In my experience, the whole team might have come and gone from a company in that time frame.

So how many Kueny’s are out there? How many managers playing it generally safe, but willing to take a chance on something in which they have a personal investment (e.g. the “Art” product?).

A whole bunch, I’d guess.

So has design won? Once again, I don’t think so. Playing it safe can be good for the career. Development times are probably longer though.

Original Post: http://blog.rebang.com/?p=1260