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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

How to rev up the Innovation and Ideas bank

Other People's Shoes
By Jeffrey Baumgartner

We have a saying in English: put yourself in the other person's shoes. It means to try and understand the situation from another person's perspective.
ABILITY to put yourself in someone else's shoes is one of the greatest creative thinking skills you can have. TRYING to put yourself in another person's shoes is a terrific creativity exercise and an effective ideation method for brainstorming.

If you run a business, the people whose shoes you should be trying to put on are your customers. Sure, market research and customer surveys can provide you with lots of information, such as the average age, income, education and more, about your customers. You can even run surveys of your customers to find out how they will react to new products. But, market surveys cannot really tell you what your customers think and feel.
In order to do that, you need to be able to put yourself in your customers' shoes. You need to be able to look at your product, service, company and marketing from the perspective of your customers.

This requires two steps. Firstly, you must dump all your assumptions about your product (see article on "destroy your assumptions in 23 July 2004 issue of Report 103: http://www.jpb.com/report103/archive.php?issue_no=20040713). Your customers do not have most of those assumptions. They buy your products; they do not make and market them.
The second step is to try and see your products as your customers do. Your sales people (or dealers), your support people and your call centre people are best placed to know how your customers see your product. They have to sell the products and respond to customer questions and complaints.

If you solicit suggestions and feedback from your customers, the information you have received can be invaluable for interpreting how your customers see your products and services.
Running an ideas campaign can be a good means of better understanding how your customers see your product. Effective ideas campaigns can be based on questions such as: "What alternative uses have you found for [our product]" or "What new product features would you like to see on [our product]"

(An ideas campaign involves soliciting customer, supplier and general public ideas on a specific issue. Ideas campaigns generally last around two weeks. See Report 103, 15 June issue on ideas campaigns: http://www.jpb.com/report103/archive.php?issue_no=20040615, for more information on ideas campaigns. If you are interested in running an ideas campaign, do check out Sylvia Ideas Campaign at http://www.jpb.com/sylvia/ideascampaign.php.)
If you are selling big ticket items to other businesses, there is nothing like treating customers to a nice dinner with quality wine as a means for getting to know them better. Be sure you focus on listing and asking rather than on talking.

Once you are in a position to put yourself in your customers' shoes, you need to make a habit of trying them on regularly. Look, from your customers' perspective, at your products and your competitors' products. Review your unique selling point. Is it really unique? Is it noteworthy in the eyes of your customers?

Brainstorm new products, new product features and new services while wearing your customers' shoes. When coming up with ideas, do not think, "I think we should add this feature." Rather, think "I would like to see this feature on your products." You will be pleasantly surprised by the kinds of ideas you get with this perspective.
Role playing (see next article) can also be an excellent means of coming up with ideas from your customers' perspective.

The better you become at putting yourself in your customers' shoes, the better you will become at serving your customers in innovative, effective new ways

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