August 19, 2013

Running on empty?


Here’s a quick test for you.

Have a read through these two paragraphs and have a guess at when they were written:

“Let’s start with the good news: Advances in digitization, biotechnology and smart materials – each representing the convergence of multiple discrete technologies  – are increasing opportunities in a wide variety of industries. Major discontinuities in the competitive landscape – deregulation, ubiquitous connectivity and globalization  – are further accelerating this trend. As the competitive environment rapidly transforms, the potential for innovation is greater than ever.

And now the bad news: Managers are under overwhelming pressure to create value. Competition is intense, and profit margins are shrinking. Traditional prescriptions such as cost reduction, re-engineering and outsourcing, while critically important, cannot solve the problems of margin pressure.”

So, what was your guess?

Within the last year?

Late in 2010?

Anyone get close to 2003?

The extract, from the article ‘The New Frontier of Experience Innovation’, authored by C. K. Prahalad and Venkatram Ramaswamy in the MIT/Sloan management review magazine:  Summer 2003 was published more than 10 years ago. Which makes the roots of its ideas most likely 18 months earlier, if not more.

Why the test?

Several reasons. If thinking about ‘Experience Innovation’  has had at least 10 years to percolate through the business world and its layers of management, how come we still come across so many organisations without any kind of strategy – let alone a department or even an individual – charged with experience leadership?

Now I need to caveat this with the fact that my most recent experience with experience is pretty much singular, in the automotive sector. But like any period of uninterrupted study of a subject, this allows for some close observation and the traits are fairly clear-cut. Automotive brand owners have absorbed the language of experience but failed to adopt the practice.

Why should this be the case?

Some of the answers lay in the business or operating model. We know that brand owners have limited control over the retail landscape. The exercise of this control usually takes the form of negotiations around representation standards. Debate rages around the shape of physical things – buildings, signs, desks, tool chests.
The parties at these debates take their respective stances, fixed as they with limits set by countervailing thinking. The mindsets are just that, set in the forms of their policies, practices and protectionism.

The result is we end up ‘back in the future’. The dealership still looks, operates, sounds and feels like the place it always was. Often times more a fancy distribution warehouse with front of house.

Nothing wrong with that? Perhaps. The figures on dealership figures tell a different story. Visits have dropped from 7.5 to 1.3 average visits in the same period as the MIT report we began with. Post a visit, 50% – FIFTY percent – changed their minds about a car they were considering.

Perhaps it was the shape of the desk…


What can we do about it?

One thought I’ve had, reading a book about the history of maps, is that the way we think about experience innovation.

While we claim to have ‘the customer’ at heart we continue to draw our ‘maps’ and diagrams with the organisation at the centre. Rather like maps of the ancient world, where they placed their city (think Babylon, Jerusalem, Alexandria) centre stage, we  feature visions, missions, propositions (stuff about the business, ‘you’ not ‘me’).

Yet we now experience maps (on screen most likely) where we are suddenly ‘the middle’. How does that feel? Liberating, I’d say.

So why are the models we use still predicated around the organisation at the centre of our doughnuts, onions, Venns, et. al when our rhetoric demands our audiences are at the heart of what we do.?

We know that ‘we’ deserve better experiences. Indeed, as we shown in an earlier post, it’s something we come to expect. As standard.

Perhaps it’s the fear that ‘we’ are fickle creatures, wont to change our allegiance at the drop of a hat. That draws organisations up short. What ‘we’ once saw as novel features become basic expectations in no time at all, as Noriaka Kano showed only too well in his Kano Model. How’s a business supposed to keep up, not letting down current customers, let alone constantly delighting others?

Re-thinking that centre ground.

As we’ve seen, ideas that seem rather new often aren’t (like out 10+ year old experience of experience innovation). If things things like this are so faddy, why is it still the common currency of business, still being discussed as if it was last year (or even last week)?

People don’t change all that much. It’s the things we experience that change us. It’s experiences that shape our world.

If we put the ‘we’ at the centre of our thinking and see what shapes that throws, we can provide a surprisingly robust and long-lasting strategy for delivering great experiences – one that importantly isn’t predicated on one product but on the whole.

If you’d like to read a little more, why not have a read of our latest paper?

Shaping Your World

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About Richard Hill

Creative director, writer, designer, illustrator based in the UK with global project experience and consulting skills across sectors.

Latest Posts By Richard Hill


Experiences, Ideas for business, Re-thinking


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