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Leave Dogmas Behind to Meet Unmet Market Needs

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    By Victor Cascella and Edoardo Monopoli

    By taking time to identify dogmas (or biases) and dominant logic, companies can bust the behaviors that limit their views of opportunities. By understanding and confronting dogmas, a business can stimulate dialogue and analysis that is free from bias and constraints, and is more likely to generate truly innovative approaches to capturing new value. This is the first in a series of articles identifying dogmas and how to conquer them.


    Imagine your toddler scribbling all over the front of your new fridge. Luckily, some sharp thinkers at Indesit did just that!

    Indesit's introduction of its "Graffiti" line of refrigerators is an excellent example of innovation representing a freeing the mind to enable the discovery of unmet market needs. The organization overcame its deeply ingrained assumptions and historically-enmeshed thinking patterns to reinvent the fridge from the outside-in.

    A History of Opportunities

    Created in 1975, the Indesit Company grew out of the Household Appliances division of Merloni Industries. Indesit is the second largest European white goods (major household appliances) manufacturer in market share and the fifth in the world. Although it is the youngest multinational in the home appliances business, Indesit has zoomed to 3.4 billion in revenues in 20 years. Its ability to identify opportunities and capitalize on them quickly is one reason for its success.

    Dogmas Identified

    What is the secret of their Graffiti success? Indesit's development manager organized a two-day innovation workshop with cross-functional teams and clearly-defined mission: step beyond historical perceptions and beliefs about what matters to customers when buying a refrigerator and scout out new opportunities to influence their decisions. Recognizing that the first step through the door of innovation was to name the organization's cultural beliefs which may be limiting a view of opportunity, the teams identified their own "dogmas" about how the Indesit product design community saw the white goods world:

    1. "Refrigerators should always reflect on the outside what they do on the inside i.e., they should provide a sterile, clean environment for preserving food."
    2. "Our products are not made to appeal to youth, rather, to adults who can decide to buy."
    3. "Innovation means a brand-new product."

    Rather than using these assumptions as a framework for their thinking, the Indesit employees instead posed a different set of questions designed to foster out-of-the-box thinking:

    1. What is the kitchen? For people with young children, it is the communication center for the family.
    2. How do people communicate? They leave notes, shopping lists and reminders on the refrigerator door.
    3. Where is the refrigerator? It is in the kitchen.
    4. So why not make it easy to communicate by providing a surface to write and rewrite on?

    Broadening the Horizons

    These four questions forced the group to broaden its horizons to the human environment in which the refrigerator resides and struck white-goods gold a refrigerator with a white-board writing surface serving a central household need and bringing new excitement to the functionality of a kitchen appliance. By optimizing the surface (dry erase markers, easily cleaned and durable) for this secondary purpose, Indesit enabled a new utility and added incredibly innovative value to the consumer. Thus, the idea of Graffiti was born despite the fact that (or because) it runs counter to all three previously-established beliefs:

    1. It is not pristine,
    2. It appeals directly to youth and
    3. It uses existing technology and product platforms.

    The Indesit CEO approved the concept after five minutes of explanation; in three months, the new product hit the market. It is easy to see why "Graffiti" has become code for innovation inside Indesit!

    Conclusion

    As the Indesit example illustrates, dogma-busting may be the best way to unleash innovation. The same phenomenon applies to the formulation of a business strategy. An organization's existing strategy formulation process often carries substantial constraints and biases that limit the view of opportunities. Understanding where and why these biases exist, and then disabling them from adverse affects, allows an organization to have a less obstructed view of market needs. In doing so, leaders can identify more opportunities to create new value. Asking key questions at the right time exposes self-imposed constraints that would normally prevent line-of-sight to both incremental and breakthrough opportunities.

    About the Authors:

    Victor Cascella is a director with Grant Thornton's Global Public Sector and is responsible for developing excellence in mission performance for the firm's Federal Government clients. As an expert in strategy and operations consulting, he works with executive-level leadership teams to translate business strategies into operational goals and helps them develop measurement systems to improve strategic clarity and accountability for performance. Cascella has worked in a wide range of industries, including government, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, services and financial. He is based in Washington, D.C. Contact Victor Cascella at victor.cascella (at) valeocon.com or visit http://www.valeocon.com.

    Edoardo Monopoli is the managing partner with Valeocon Management Consulting and leads the Innovation practice. His clients include Pfizer, Whirlpool, Johnson & Johnson, American Standard and Novartis. He is based in Milan, Italy. Contact Edoardo Monopoli at edoardo.monopoli (at) valeocon.com or visit http://www.valeocon.com.

     
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