We all know the term “Think outside the box” and we all like to think that the best of us are capable of doing just that. On our better days we make valiant attempts to do so. But when it comes to thinking about who uses the products, the services, the ideas we create how often do we really do that? And more importantly, are we really capable of thinking outside the box … When we never even question why is there even a box in the first place?
We are, here in the states, trapped in a desperate economy with all businesses trying to fight for a greater share of a rapidly dwindling market. From cell phones to fruits and grains, the fight to create and sell products the world wants has become a tedious and somewhat endless display of copying whatever is selling at the moment and the truly innovative products are seemingly fewer and farther between.
In the late 1990’s Bill Gates stood before a packed CES trade show and declared the age of the web browser was dead and the future was the tablet PC. The reception he received was, to say the least, less enthusiastic than that of ten years later. Which is when Steve Jobs, unveiled the iPad to the world, gave pretty much the same speech and the world has proceeded to snap them up like candy.
Bill Gates and Microsoft in 2000, clearly were the innovators. They were a decade ahead of the planet and the thumping that they received from the market is largely why they seemingly are, in all irony, late to the Tablet party – even though they created them 10 years before the iPad was even a twinkling in the eye of Steve Jobs. You can argue the interface on the iPad is easier to use and all kinds of things… But the fact is, in 2000 we just weren’t ready for Tablet PC’s. No one had a need.
Microsoft was thinking outside the box. They just never asked first … “Why do we have a box?", “Who needs a box?” and “What the heck is a box anyway???”. This the is the difference between something that is innovative… and innovation. Innovation, is bringing together what is needed – when and where it’s needed, not just coming up with the product first.
Its that synchronicity between demand for something new, and having something new. Which is harder to achieve than you might think, and in a zen like irony – easier than people might think. The trick… is to stop thinking and start observing.
The core of user experience is not placing a product in the hands of the user and saying, “Show us how you’d use this.”. It’s spending time with the user and seeing what they do, how they do it, and then designing something based on that. This is what is missing from much of our businesses today. We are so busy creating a product, we aren’t asking if anyone out there uses it – or if they need something completely different from what it is we make.
I see everyone from Google to Apple these days looking at “the future”. What I don’t see, are boots on the ground just … people watching. The next great product, will not be an iPad, or a new Search system for the Internet. It won’t be an operating system. It’s not going to be a cell phone or mobile computing experience, or a nano-molecular vaccine against cold sores.
It might be… clothing that is self cleaning. It might be an app that connects all your banking needs with your shopping in an easier to use form than we’ve seen today. It might be a self cleaning coffee mug. It might be any one of a thousand things but the one thing I assure you it will not be… is a box. So thinking outside it? Waste of your time. If you started the thought process by even acknowledging that you have a box, you’re already behind the game.
We now live in a global economy, where 75% of your potential customers are only partially literate. So, all that cool wording on your packaging to describe the features? That was most likely something that could have been handled better by large pictures of people clearly using the features – which wouldn’t require translation. We live in a global world where most of your newest customers live in countries where getting to the bank? Really hard to do, and probably neither safe, or effective since many of the banks there close due to panics regularly. (Really they do. You think our financial issues are bad? Just wait till you see what it’s like in the 3rd world.)
The “box” has no meaning in the global space. It’s only purpose is often as a method of short term housing. Where $100 USD is an upper middle class months salary. That’s the reality. That is the market that we need very much to be addressing. Because that’s the 3 billion extra customers that we’re looking for. And they often can’t read. And they often do not own cars, and sharing housing with 2 –3 other families isn’t uncommon. This is the global economy ‘box’ you need to think outside of – it’s not a pretty box. It is the fastest growing market on the planet.
If you have a scrap yard in Atlanta or Wyoming or North / South Dakota with old truck or car parts you can’t sell? Guess what?? Here’s your market… here’s your box… fill it with the stuff this market needs. Food, clean water, power, cheap and affordable shelter, tv’s and entertainment. The trick is not to come out with the next super awesome $500- $2400 computer. It’s to come up with a decent disposable $100 computer that has internet.
It’s not to offer a $50-100 pair of designer blue jeans. It’s to offer a designer label pair of inexpensive $5-10 pair of jeans. It’s all about reaching that market – and that markets needs. In ‘our world’, our ‘box’ the idea of a cell phone which has 2 SIM chips built into it that let you use 1 phone with 2 different carriers has no purpose. But in the world without a box – these sell like hotcakes. Better to sell 5,000 of something at $5 than to sell fifty of them at $250 – that’s the reality.
The world without a box is the largest potential customer base out there. The world without a box that sits in an almost dystopian world torn from a William Gibson novel were it cross-bred with the Grapes of Wrath. Technology coexists with poverty. And poverty – is changing so rapidly, that in 5-15 years they will be nearly up to our standard of living, up to our ‘box’. But even then – their cultural, their personal, professional and daily needs, will not match up.
If we are not considering this brave strange new world that culturally is vastly different from what we perceive it to be. When we learn to market to that very large and very much willing to buy segment, when we begin to innovate for that segment… we are tapping into a market which right now, seemingly has nothing but sheer raw numbers. Not hundreds of thousands of customers or millions of customers, but billions of customers.
When we stop trying to live within the confines of a box, and think outside it for solutions… and instead remove the box and think of just straight solutions to problems we can see, hear feel, touch taste and understand – we develop the greatest products that will have ever existed.