Making Your Products/Services Affordable and Accessible

November 25, 2008

One of my last blog entries discussed the need to create affordable and accessible solutions as a way of staying competitive. Given  globalization, cheap labor, and a damanged economy, this makes more sense than ever.

Here are three starter questions to ask to help you generate new ideas:

How can you productize a service? One way to make a service more affordable and accessible is to turn it into a physical or digital product; something that requires little or no human intervention. In my earlier entry, I talked about Cybersettle automating insurance claims processing. My Innovation Personality Poker enables people to recreate one of my most popular speeches/workshops. Self-assessment tools can reduce reliance on consultants. Remote diagnostic technologies can speed medical exams and pre-qualify patients before they come to the doctor. Legalzoom.com offers affordable legal advice for people who might otherwise not seek counsel. TurboTax simplifies tax filing. Experts convert their intellectual property into books, mp3s, DVDs, digitally delivered training (including eLearning) systems, or online databases. The possibilities are endless.

How can you offer a low-cost product/service? In an earlier blog entry, I quoted Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince, who once said, “Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add but when there is no longer anything to take away.” I love that.  Ask, “Why are people really using our products/services and what are the bare minimum ways of delivering the desired outcome?” $300 netbooks are stripped down computers because most people want to do word processing and surf the net. Tata is offering a $2,000 car in India (ok, maybe that is a bit too scaled down). Ernst & Young Consulting (now Cap Gemini) once offered a subscription service, Ernie, which provided small businesses with a low-cost alternative to high priced consulting. Dow Corning, the maker of silicone-based products, created Xiameter, an internet-based division that sells product only in bulk… with no call centers.  Which features, services, or qualities can be reduced in order to tap into a new market?

How can I make my product addictive? Drug dealers know that if you get someone hooked on your product, they will come back to buy more. This strategy can be useful for attracting – and retaining – customers. Last month I spoke with the CEOs of three software companies. The one strategy that was pertinent to all three was the development of a stripped down version of the software…and potentially offering it for free. The idea is to get the customer hooked and using the software on a regular basis. Then as the customer’s needs grow, they will need to upgrade (note: this is not the same thing as offering something free today and then charging in the future). I worked with a major computer manufacturer many years ago where this concept was applied. Their flagship computer was (let’s call it) the “F” series. But that was too expensive for most companies, so they introduced a much slower and less expensive computer – the “E” series. Interestingly, the two models were 100% identical except a computer chip was added to the “E” to slow it down. The company knew that many customers would eventually want an upgrade, and they simply pulled out the chip and charged an exorbitant fee.

All three of these strategies move your innovation to the left-hand part of the bell curve (above) rather than the right. All three can be used by any company to augment their existing products and services.  The point is to make your “core competency” available to a broader market – without negatively diverting energies.

I will be including more strategies in future blog entries.

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L Vaughn Spencer – Very Funny

November 21, 2008

A good friend of mine, Neil Mullarkey (yes, that’s his real name), is one of the funniest people I know.  He, Mike Myers, and a couple of other guys founded the Comedy Store Players (an improv comedy group) in London.  I have seen Neil perform dozens of times.  Always fantastic!  I even spent a day training with him.  Now I am funny(er).  His latest comedic character is the “gansta motivator,” L Vaughn Spencer, also known as L Vo.  He also has a new book based on this character (I am eagerly waiting for mine to arrive from Amazon).  I know many motivational speakers.  After a while, it is hard to take some of them seriously.  That’s why L Vo is so much fun.  The Sunday Telegraph in the UK said, “(L Vo is) the perfect antidote to the endless bogus management consultants and coaches who ply the corporate circuit.”  Hopefully they aren’t referring to me!

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The Innovator’s Dilemma and the US Economy

November 20, 2008

Clayton Christensen, in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma, discusses how disruptive technologies will kill incumbent technologies. Basically it is about how the crappy and cheap will eventually take over the sophisticated and expensive.

The well-worn example is in the computing world.  The PC (which until recently cost thousands of dollars) killed the dominance of the mini-computer and mainframe (which then cost tens of thousands of dollars).  The new $300 netbooks may eventually become the dominant computing platform.  Or maybe a $100 mobile phones will eventually replace computers altogether.

The dilemma arises because most companies focus their innovation energies on building faster and more sophisticated technologies: becoming bigger and better.  That is, they move towards the right of the graphic above.  Unfortunately, the newer, cheaper developments – even if they are lower quality (in the beginning) and don’t perform as well – will ultimately be the winners.  Or in other words, the left part of the graphic above.

The US Economy Dilemma

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Shadow Personality Poker

November 19, 2008

If you own the Innovation Personality Poker system, here’s an interesting game to play. It’s called “Shadow Poker.” It was suggested by my colleague Jason Bates over at Executive Rockstar.

Shadow Poker is the same as regular Personality Poker, except with one small difference: the goal is to choose personality traits that describe the people you don’t like. All players choose the five cards that best describe the people who get on their nerves.

This version is based on Carl Jung’s “shadow” work. The theory is that people have an irrational dislike of others who demonstrate characteristics that they most dislike in themselves

This game works best when all of the players do not know that this is based on shadow theory, because then everyone will be thinking of others and not themselves. Revealing this “projection” motif at the end of the game can prove quite insightful. Jung suggested that everyone eventually has to come to terms with this shadow self.

Shadow Poker is just one of the many variations included in out new and improved 80 page instruction manual.  Order your Innovation Personality Poker Starter Kit today.

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The Origin of Spam

November 18, 2008

You may wonder how spam got its name.  No, I am not referring to the annoying emails we get.  I am referring to the canned pork product that pre-dated the internet.

In a classic Straight Dope article from 10 years ago, Cecil writes that the name is short for “spiced ham.”

Supposedly there was a “name-the-product party, in which you had to contribute a possible name in order to get a drink.”

Clever idea.  Maybe this is a way of developing a new name or concept for your business.  Just make sure you check your corporate insurance policy first.

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Relearning What You Know

November 14, 2008

The blog here has been quiet for a while. I was overseas for the past 2.5 weeks having a fantastic time. A handful of days in Lisbon (my favorite photo from my travels is pictured left). A week in England. And a few days in Oslo.

It was my first time to both Lisbon and Oslo. They are lovely cities.

And of course I always love visiting London. I lived there for four years. However, there is always something a bit disconcerting about being in the UK.

I have been driving a car in the states for nearly 30 years. I know how to drive. I drive well. And I don’t need to think about driving when I drive. It just comes naturally.

But when I am in the UK, that’s a totally different story.

The cars there have the steering wheel on the right-hand side. You drive on the left side of the road and pass on the right. Roundabouts (rotaries) go clock-wise. And for manual transmission cars, you shift with your left hand.

The task of driving a car in the UK is almost identical to driving a car in the US. But for me, the experiences are TOTALLY different.

I need to concentrate when I drive in the UK. When turning, I need to remember to go wide when turning right. I find it hard to judge the end of the car. While driving in South Africa last year, I came close to killing everyone in my car on several occasions.

It’s amazing how we can become very good at something. But when one thing is changed, we become incompetent.

Think about your job. Think about your life. What do you do well? What are you able to do without thinking, because it comes naturally?

Maybe these areas of your life and business represent blind spots. Places where there is an opportunity to grow and learn.

Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Inc, once said, “Creativity is just having enough dots to connect… connect experiences and synthesize new things. The reason creative people are able to do that is that they’ve had more experiences or have thought more about their experiences than other people.”

If creative people think more about their experiences or have more experience, then it is possible that the more you are on autopilot, the less creative you are.

What are the routines in your life? What small, subtle pieces can you change to fundamentally change the experience?  Remember, you don’t need to change everything, just something that moves you from unconsciousness to consciousness. I still know 99% of the skills required to drive a car.  Only 1% needs to be changed to cause me to think.

Visit a country where you don’t know the language. Change an aspect of your job so that you need to be more present to your actions. Speak with people you normally avoid. Change one attribute of a routine.

Do you want your organization to be more innovative? If so, your people need to get more comfortable with change.  Start by introducing small changes. Every morning, write down one small change you want to introduce into your day. Have everyone on your team do the same thing. Make the changes small. They should take little or no time.  They should be easy enough so that people will actually incorporate into their day.

If everyone on your team starts to introduce small changes on a regular basis, they will get used to frequent small changes.  And then, infrequent large changes won’t seem like such a big deal.

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