menu

frog: Don’t Criminalize Test-Driving Your Competitors

frog: Don’t Criminalize Test-Driving Your Competitors
Advertising

The author of Innovation X advises that companies who encourage their workers to try their competitors' offerings can learn and grow from the experience.

frog
  • 23 june 2011

In a talk earlier this year to employees, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop asked a question that many were probably afraid to answer truthfully, given how Nokia is struggling to combat the iPhone. As BusinessWeek described it:

When he asks how many people in the crowd use an iPhone or Android device, few hands go up. “That upsets me, not because some of you are using iPhones, but because only a small number of people are using iPhones. I’d rather people have the intellectual curiosity to understand what we’re up against.”

This is refreshing statement; many executives would have berated their employees for not keeping the faith while a company faced its biggest crisis.

Don’t Enforce a Monoculture

One of the surest ways of losing touch with real customers’ needs and getting outsmarted by competitors is to enforce a monoculture in your organization, where competitive products are banned and employees only come into contact with your own offerings.

My first job out of college was at Sun Microsystems, and in those days (early 90’s) it was forbidden to have any competitive products, whether they were from Microsoft, Silicon Graphics, Apple, or Dell. Since Sun made hardware and software, only Sun machines running the Sun operating system were allowed. (In the design group we did have a couple of Macs as the software we needed wasn’t available for Sun’s OS, but they had to be kept hidden away and bought and maintained clandestinely.)

As a result, every Sun employee lived in a Sun monoculture. This was unlike the environment most Sun customers inhabited, where there was a mix of hardware, software, and platforms from a variety of different vendors. Customers had to deal with integration issues that were never felt by Sun staff. Furthermore, Sun employees were “shielded” from understanding what competitive products could really do, or from gaining insights into how they might be falling short, or actually meeting customer needs better in some ways than Sun’s products.

I remember when we were starting a new project that we had to visit the nearby Oracle headquarters (ironically, now Sun’s owner) to get our hands on a wide variety of competitive hardware, as Oracle had to test its software on all platforms and manufacturers. We learned more in those few hours of hands-on tire-kicking than we would have been able to in weeks of desk research.

Encourage Competitive Use, Don’t Punish It

Too often, buying and trying competitive products is frowned upon and even seen as a moral weakness. As I wrote about in Innovation X, when the team developing the second-generation Ford Taurus bought a Toyota Camry (with great difficulty) to try it out, it brought to light critical quality factors that significantly changed how the team approached its work. In her exhaustive book about this project, Mary Walton describes how buying competitive cars, especially Japanese ones, was seen as practically treasonous at Ford in the 1980’s.

This attitude is not healthy. You should encourage people at all levels — starting at the top — to be immersed in your competitors’ offerings, just as they should be immersed in understanding your customers’ lives. Without a clear-eyed, honest perspective about how you are superior and where you are falling short, you will fall into a falsely narrow view of the world.

Walton also noted how Ford executives (as is the case at most car companies) were regularly given new cars, and all servicing was handled by in-house technicians. They never had to deal with oil changes, indifferent dealerships, older cars starting to wear out (since they got replaced so frequently), or any of the other annoyances that can come from car ownership. They lived in a perfect bubble that hid the quality advances their Japanese competitors were making in strides.

(Continue reading here.)

[Written by Adam Richardson. Reprinted with kind permission from design mind, a publication of global innovation firm frog design.]

design mind is a publication of global innovation firm frog design that is updated daily to keep the design and innovation community updated with fresh perspectives on industry trends, emerging technologies, and global consumer culture. Learn more about design mind and frog design.

Adam Richardson, the VP of Marketing Strategy, oversees marketing strategy and thought leadership for frog design and its 9, 400 person parent organization Aricent. He is also the author of Innovation X: Why a Company’s Toughest Problems are its Greatest Advantage. Learn more about Adam Richardson.

Trending

Machine Printer Uses Coffee Drips To Create Intricate Portraits

Arts & Culture
Retail Today

Nine Technologies To Invest In When It Comes To Retail [Future Of Retail]

Retailers are leveraging assistive technology to help employees in their daily tasks and customers on the sales floor

Travel Today

Acura Cockpit Envisions The Future Of Autonomous Travel

The car brand has built a proof that offers a sneak peek of the self-driving vehicle experience

Trending

Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Automotive

See All
Technology Today

Genetics Startup Is Working To Create A Completely Personalized, DNA-Based Range Of Products

DNA data has the potential to drive brands forward to new levels of unique product personalization

Retail Today

How Artificial Intelligence Is Enabling Anytime Shopping & On-Demand Support

Retailers are leveraging advanced technology to relieve associates from mundane tasks, while better assisting customers

Related Expert

Emily Pilloton

Social Innovation Pioneer

Syndicated Today

NYC Map Calculates Economic Benefits Of Every Tree

TreesCount! maps all the greenery in the five boroughs and even figures out how much money it saves the city

Fashion Today

Create A Perfectly Tailored Shirt Using Just Your Phone

UKYS has created an application to get accurate measurements of buyers through a few simple pictures for custom shirts

Home Today

Tiny Home Robot Turns Switches On And Off

The miniature device attaches to the side of an appliance or switch to enable remote control through a person's phone

PSFK LABS REPORT

Future Of Retail 2017
Transformation Strategies For Customer-First Business
NEW

PSFK Op-Ed december 2, 2016

Customer Service Expert: Why Offline Retail Has Better Data Than Online Retail

Healey Cypher, Founder and CEO of Oak Labs, shares why we should be thinking about the physical store as an e-commerce site

PSFK Labs december 1, 2016

Retail Spotlight: Home Depot Reimagines How Employees Conduct Tasks

The home improvement retailer puts the customer first by initiating local fulfillment centers and simplifying freight-to-shelf inventory management

Technology december 2, 2016

Why Nest Doesn't Get The Holidays

PSFK founder reacts to the damaging effects of poor email marketing

Children december 2, 2016

Robots Could Be Joining Dubai’s Police Force In 2017

The real-life RoboCops can salute, shake hands and collect traffic fines

Travel december 2, 2016

Parka Hides And Charges Portable Devices

Bolt is a jacket that lets people carry and charge their various electronics without the need for an outlet

USA december 2, 2016

Twitter-Powered Metronome Measures The Tempo Of Austin

The installation is designed to swing faster as more tweet come in

Food december 2, 2016

Yelp's New 'Yelfie' Feature Lets Diners Take Selfies

The update is designed to encourage people to attach a selfie when they share their experiences

PSFK LABS REPORT

Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders
NEW

Food december 2, 2016

Build Your Own Savory Cheese Advent Calendar

A British food blogger has created a guide to building a different kind of holiday surprise

Fitness & Sport december 2, 2016

Floating Gym Concept In Paris Is Powered By Your Workout

The proposed design from Carlo Ratti Associati lets passengers ride a stationary bike as they travel through Paris along the Seine River

Syndicated december 2, 2016

What Does The Future Of Android Look Like In A World With The Pixel?

Google’s decision to make its own phone might have looked like a blow to the likes of Samsung but the reality is much more interesting

No search results found.