Better Mousetrap–Myopia; Build It, They Will Come… Baloney! Business Reality– Better, Is Not Good Enough Anymore…

A wise man once wrote: If a business builds a better mousetrap, the world will make a beaten path to their door… Well, that’s not exactly what Ralph Waldo Emerson said, but it’s close enough… ah, build a better mouse trap, yes; it’s a business goal to build a better mouse trap– and not just different mouse trap but a ‘better’ mouse trap… but, ‘better’ is relative: Better for whom? Better for what? Why should consumers care?

According to Steve Denning; once upon a time, business could succeed by building a better mousetrap, but the world has changed– Building a better mousetrap is not good enough anymore and businesses that don’t recognize it will not survive– now, business success requires a synthesis between understanding markets, new technology, design, simplicity… Now, it’s the principles of ‘radical change’ management that matters– it’s different way of thinking, speaking, acting, interacting with the world… it’s a very different ballgame from the old-school of build a ‘better mousetrap’ management…

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According to Bob Ford; better mousetraps are built every day, but waiting for the world to line up at the door is just wishful thinking… Introducing step-change innovation is much more than just technology itself; it involves establishing a compelling vision that encourages people to get on board… and for many businesses the status quo prevails and innovation never gets a chance…

The mousetrap way of thinking has at least two severely limiting assumptions: First, it assumes that the answer can only be found within just the technology… Second, it defines goals in terms of the solution (‘how’) rather than in terms of the consumer needs (‘what’).  This way of thinking is an obstacle to the development of newer, better, more effective… ways to meet consumers’ needs. In fact, it often doesn’t meet the consumer’s needs at all… innovation that starts with analysis of the consumer’s real-life needs (‘what’) can often allow innovators to devise more successful solutions than innovation that starts by assuming a better version of an existing technology (‘how’)…

In the article Myth: Just Build a Better Mousetrap by Steve Denning writes: This isn’t a new style of management– ‘build a better mousetrap’ is indeed old-school. It’s quite different from the ‘radical change management’ being practiced now by truly innovative businesses, for example:

  • First: Building a better mousetrap embodies an inside-out mindset; it means thinking about producing a product from within the firm, rather than thinking outside-in, which is thinking about the people who are going to use the product and what would delight them. The inside-out perspective characterizes the 20th Century thinking, whereas the outside-in represents the shift in power from buyer to seller, which characterizes the new business reality… According to Professor Ranjay Gulati; firms with an inside-out mindset are much less resilient than those that adopted an outside-in mindset, basing everything on understanding customers’ problems, wants, needs…
  • Second: When the goal is producing a product, the management approach tends to be old-school– top-down control management. A product is an output, i.e. a thing. You can set up reliable systems to produce outputs… By contrast, ‘delighting the customer’ is an outcome, not an output… It’s not something that top-down control management is capable of accomplishing. Top-down control management was designed to deliver products efficiently. To generate the outcome of ‘delighted customers’, you need self-organizing teams focused on the customer’s experience…
  • Third: Delighting customers can only be approached by trial and error– work has to be organized in short cycles through dynamic functional linking, rather than through traditional hierarchical bureaucracy, which is used to produce the ‘better mousetrap’, utilizing efficiencies of scale…
  • Fourth: Organizational values have to change. If the goal is simply to build a better mousetrap, the task of management becomes simply that of building it as efficiently as possible… It’s a focus on continuous improvement– In effect, the mousetrap must keep getting better for customers to be delighted… By contrast, ‘delighting’ by focusing on the customer’s needs, experience…
  • Fifth: Communications must change. You can’t delight customers by communicating in top-down commands, which is also dispiriting for employees… You need horizontal adult-to-adult communications.
  • Sixth: Businesses need to be systematically measuring whether customers are, or are not, being delighted and adjusting their actions accordingly.

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In the article If You Build It, Will They Come? by David Power writes: Many growth companies make the mistake of launching new offers before they understand the market… They believe the value of their new offer will be so obvious to customers that all they need is a great engineering team and a predatory sales force and they can race their idea to market. This build it and they will come approach to product development is also known as technology in search of a marketIt’s the business equivalent of oil well wildcatting — the high stakes search for oil in unchartered territory.

As a business model, it’s terribly capital inefficient… Businesses often confuse new technologies with new markets… The notion of technology in search of a market is an expensive risk that businesses can avoid by answering two simple but enlightening questions: 1) Who is the customer? 2) What business problem do we solve? If a company cannot answer these questions, it may have a technology but not a market. There are two arguments for building a product before validating a market…

  • First-mover advantage: If we don’t launch it now, someone else will emerge as the category leader… This worked for Facebook but not for ESPN’s Mobile Phone, HP ‘s tablet computer, Solyndra’s solar panels, and countless other half-baked new offers… Furthermore, being the first mover guarantee– does not guarantee success…
  • Customers don’t know: Steve Jobs made clear; We don’t do market research. Our goal is to design, develop, and bring to market good products… and we trust, as a consequence that people will like them… Similarly, Henry Ford once said; If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have said ‘a faster horse’… Every century we get a genius or two like Ford, Jobs… Unfortunately, most innovators are not as gifted, and there are many more examples of technology in search of a market that fail…

In the article Build a Better Mousetrap by Claude Whitacre writes: Of course, ‘mousetrap’ is a metaphor for a new product, service… I just picked mousetraps because it was catchy… Great marketing is fundamental – imperative for finding out what people want (i.e., what problems they want to solve), analyzing the size of the market (i.e., understanding demand for the solution), understanding competitive forces (i.e., seeing what else is trying to solve the same problems)…

Whereas, biggest issue with build a better mousetrap approach are the assumptions, e.g.; there is a market for your better mousetrap, and all the keys are aligned– right market size, competition, timing, price, performance… However, the basic assumptions are counter to a highly innovative and competitive market environment… it’s everything in business, but in reverse order… Some points to watch:

  • Do people really want a better mousetrap? Is there something about the mousetraps sold now that people don’t like? For example, do people get their fingers snapped by the tripping mechanism? Do they hate the idea of picking up a dead mouse to dispose of it? Is it the sight of the dead mouse? The smell? Just the idea of mangling a perfectly innocent mouse?
  • Is the market growing, or shrinking? Are there more people buying mousetraps than last year? If so, you have an opportunity to ride the wave with a slightly cheaper version of the current mousetrap. If number of mousetraps sold every year is sharply declining, is it because there is something better out there? If not, building a better mousetrap, with dwindling demand, is a sure way to failure…
  • Do people really want to kill mice? Would a more accepted product be one that repels mice? How about something that repels mice, and gets rid of the smell (assuming that dead mice smell) at the same time? Is that something people want? How about a way to treat the wood or insulation so that mice hate the taste, and won’t come in at all?

In the article Building a Better Mousetrap by A. Blanton Godfrey writes: Companies that fail to create a competitive advantage definitely face a survival struggle. Just trying to do exactly the same things as the competition, but only a little bit better, is a tough strategy with which to succeed… According to Jack Welch; Innovate or die-In these challenging times, the statement has more relevance than ever… However, we often misunderstand innovation. Far too many people think only product innovation matters, and they forget that we can also be incredibly innovative in production, distribution, marketing, service…

Many times I’ve heard people state emphatically: If we don’t come up with new products, we’ll be out of business– What nonsense… Many of the most successful new companies during the past decades haven’t really created new products– just new ways of producing, distributing… those that already exist. Innovation isn’t just about breakthrough thinking, new products– often, it’s simply understanding better ways to produce something, distribute something or make it easier for the customer to use the product… Innovation comes in many forms, but it’s often innovation that drives long-term success…

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Myth of the mousetrap is perhaps the most damaging myth about business: It gives the impression that building a good product or even just a better product than the competition is the majority of what it takes to build a business… According to John Seiffer; that’s just not true; yet the comfort of believing it forces countless businesses to endure the pain of failure despite having a good, great, or superior product…

According to David Burkus; the ‘mousetrap myth’ is perhaps, of all the myths of innovation, the most stifling to innovation because it doesn’t concern generating ideas, rather it affects how ideas are implemented. It’s not enough for an organization to have creative people; it must develop a culture that doesn’t reject great ideas. It’s not enough for people to learn how to be more creative; they also need to be persistent through the rejection they might face…

Creative ideas, by definition, are novel and useful but it’s hard to see the usefulness in new ideas when you’re judging them with an old mindset… As leaders, it’s especially important to remember our inherent bias against creativity and make sure when we judge creative ideas, we aren’t using their novelty as an excuse to dismiss their usefulness

According to Joseph L. Driscoll; there is so much happening ‘on the inside’ of a business that we forget about what’s happening ‘on the outside’… Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door: In business, nothing could be further from the truth…

So, go ahead; build a better mousetrap if you are so inclined, but to build a ‘better business’ remember, Jack Welch’s comment: Innovate or die…