Everything Begins From Center
From the most logical product line extensions to the most out there innovation, one should be able to connect it directly back to the overall Mission of the organization, its core competencies, and what it stands for... the organization's center, if you will.
In practice, organizations, especially those with strong brands and connections with customers, tend to underestimate how much license customers will give to these more out there innovations and extensions of offerings. Why? Because many organizations aren't actually well acquainted with how customers perceive their brand and what they do for the customer, both at the functional and emotional levels.
This disconnection from center can happen in a few different ways within an organization:
- Experience and expertise far beyond that of customers. Like any expert, people who are immersed in a given field have far more attuned senses and abilities to perceive and describe the offering. Experts simply have higher engagement and more experience, which breeds an assumption that many customers may be far more advanced than they are.
- High self-involvement. In another words, the fact that you feed your family selling paperclips does not mean that customers share that same high level of involvement with your products.
- Focus on shallow experience. If you work at Porsche and believe that Porsche makes only two-seat sports cars, you have created a very finite set of bounds on what you do. If you believe that you build the purest, most refined, and exciting vehicles in the world, other options are open to you. We will talk a bit more about this, but if you see your company as making only what's in the box, it places very specific bounds around what you do.
Over time, a company may touch with how they are perceived, a construct which can shift significantly over relatively short periods of time. In fact, those organizations may have never had a clear understanding of what their center was to begin with. This has everything to do with innovation and sustainability for us, as understanding the space in which your organizations and others operate in an unbiased way can be a tremendous starting point and anchor for innovation.
A Simple Metaphor for Why Center is Important to our Efforts
Think of the center of what your organization and brand represents in the minds of customers as a fixed pin attached to a heavy brick. Every innovation and new offering adds a rubber band and a new pin. Chances are that your company has an array of products and services close to your center pin. Forays further away from that center require strong pins, otherwise the tension is simply too much, and the pins simply break or pull out. Those far out pins may, in time, sprout their own supporting pins, and so on.
If you have enough pins and bands pulling in one direction, over time, the brick will move along in the same direction and re-find center. John Deere is one example: the man was originally a blacksmith who found a new way to make plows... which then became a tractor company... which then became an agricultural (and merchandising) giant. If the product creates enough tension, the company will come along with it.
Our goal is to gain an understanding of where the pins and bands are located, and to understand current boundaries. This will give us some feel for the landscape within which we will be working, and some feel for where the current boundaries lie. We won't consider these limits, per se, because a very significant innovation can instantly break the current boundaries of any organization. For example, if Lockheed Martin has indeed found a way to create compact fusion, they will instantly transcend any current association people may have with their organization. 'Unlimited energy for the world' is a pretty strong band and pin for any organization.
If you've ever seen a cognitive map, they look a lot like an overhead view of these pins and bands, and work much in the same way. If you haven't worked with cognitive maps in a rigorous way before, we will be doing exactly this in a few Lessons.
How Centers May Change Over Time
There are a few ways organizations can lose center over time. This may sound like a branding problem, and it certainly is... but it is also a foundational concern in developing new offerings. Unless you are a startup company, you will have existing thoughts and frames held by customers and the public at large about your organization. For better or worse, these existing thoughts and frames will affect perception of the new offering, just as your existing thoughts and frames about a person will affect how you perceive their new endeavors.
We will be diving into consumer research methodologies next week and cognitive mapping the week after, so we will indeed have tools to be able to find center for any organization in significant detail. But for the rest of this Lesson, we want to understand a concept related to an organization's center, one which defines much of how it will view and approach new offerings: White, Gray and Black Spaces.