Products and services generally exist because they meet a need. Most often this need is real and tangible and can be readily enunciated.
In some cases of course the need may be “constructed” with clever advertising and brand positioning. For example who really need a Louis Vitton handbag, compared with the $2.00 Chinese look alike?
Putting aside the “created needs”, one of the major sources of real opportunity is a widespread activity combined with an observed frustration, very often expressed as a curse.
Listen for the curse
Inventors, entrepreneurs and innovators are very good at spotting opportunities, perhaps listening for frustrations or for a curse, and even solving the underlying problem. However, the one essential ingredient that underpins a successful opportunity that many people fail to understand is its span or “widespread-ness”. There is little point is solving a problem for a single person involved in a lone occupation. What is needed is an occupation that is widespread, that of course is where widespread opportunities exist.
The Opportunity Matrix © La Salle
With this in mind we can create an opportunity matrix that comprises a rectangular grid or array with the fundamentals that underpin an opportunity on the vertical axis, and use a number of thought provoking “Catalysts” arranged on the horizontal axis, with one being “frustration, the result is a simple and structured way to identify an opportunity.
Track a Widespread Activity
Using just the above two elements of the opportunity matrix one need now only identify any activity that is undertaken on a widespread basis and literally track (or follow) the people undertaking that activity and listen for and document the incidences of frustration or the curses. This is easy to do; is rigorous and almost fool proof in the outcomes it produces.
Below is a simple scatter graph that was plotted and results from the activity of following four people involved in a particular trade over a four week period.
On the vertical axis we have the number of curses or frustrations observed and on the horizontal axis, the reason for each of these.
Real Life example - Install time reduced by 40%
An example of this technique was recently presented at a conference where electricians installing overhead down lights were literally tracked to observe the frustrations they encountered in undertaking this task. It was expected that the task of cutting the correct sized holed in the ceiling and actually wiring the lights in awkward overhead positions would be the problem, but none the less the tracking activity was undertaken in order to gain a complete understand of the issues.
To the surprise of all involved, the real problem observed in tracking a number of contractors was in calculating and marking the exact positions of where to cut the ceiling holes. Once these positions were known it was a simple and relatively short term task for the contractors to actually cut the holes and fit the lights.
The outcome was the opportunity for a new set of measuring instruments to facilitate the easy measurement and calculation of the hole positions. This was quite unexpected but with the advent of the new measuring technique some 40% of the total install time was removed from this common and widespread task.
The Opportunity Matrix is a pre cursor to the Product Innovation Matrix
I a recent workshop the participants were asked to “Innovate” a washing machine, and as it happens there was a white good engineering in the class. The chap made the point that the question is far to broad and open. Where does one start?
He commented “I can put a washing machine on a bench and perhaps ask people to innovate it (meaning change it in some way to add value) but how can I direct my thinking to the real issues?
This was an excellent question and perfectly led the group into exploring the “Opportunity Matrix” as a means to find innovation opportunities for the washing machine.
The group was asked to track (follow and watch) a person using a washing machine and observe some frustrations. Such observations were of course the “low hanging” fruit to be explored as product innovation opportunities.
Several frustrations were noted:
- Front loading machines require you to bend down, so why not have a removable canister than can be filled when placed on a bench
- If the outlet hose is blocked or in a sink that fills, flooding of the laundry occurs (we have all had that problem). The solution, use an machine cut out (much like the petrol bowsers cut off when your petrol tank is near full) to stop the machine
- Washning machines are heavy and difficult to move and clean behind. The solution, have casters that lock magnetically only when the machine is switched on at the power.
There were several other excellent examples that came to light once the Opportunity Matrix was fully explored.
There are of course many other examples.
The “Opportunity Matrix” is an extremely powerful tool once people understand how it works and it can be used to good effect in all industries, both product and services.
Structure your opportunity search
The simple point is to identify any widespread activity and to track people involved and capture and plot the frustrations.
Indeed you can do this with your staff, with people using your products or services or with customers and people in general.
This is just one way of implementing a structured the Opportunity search.
**** END ****
Roger La Salle, is the creator of the "Matrix Thinking"™ technique and is widely sought after as an international speaker on Innovation, Opportunity and business development. He is the author of four books, Director and former CEO of the Innovation Centre of Victoria (INNOVIC) as well as a number of companies both in Australian and overseas. He has been responsible for a number of successful technology start-ups and in 2004 was a regular panellist on the ABC New Inventors TV program. In 2005 he was appointed to the "Chair of Innovation" at “The Queens University" in Belfast. Matrix Thinking is now used in more than 26 countries. www.matrixthinking.com
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