A Soleful External Innovation Story

Sunday, 26 June 2016 07:32
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A Soleful External Innovation Story

While many companies leverage external resources to engage in technical problem solving, there is another external innovation application that also can have tremendous business impact for them. It involves conceiving of new product concepts that utilize external performance technologies and to enlist appropriate external resources to help them with product development and/or commercialization.

Perhaps the best known example of this practice is from a dozen or so years ago when P&G licensed a high performance duster from a Japanese company. They incorporated it into their new Swiffer household cleaning implements product line. The following is a hypothetical and perhaps more representative example:

A sporting goods footwear client has collected some consumer insights:

"I like to be active and play sports at the beach during the summer months, but very often the sand is too hot to walk on without wearing sandals...and I can't play sand volleyball or run on the sand in sandals.""I like to play in the surf, but I can cut my feet on sea shells, sharp rocks and who knows what else...and I don't want to wear water shoes."These insights trigger new product ideation...some concepts requiring technologies that the foot wear company itself doesn't possess or control. For example:

We could design calf-high boots or socks made from neoprene, the same material used to produce surfing wet suits. This would not be as bulky as a shoe. It would repel water and also would insulate feet from hot sand. It would also provide a measure of protection from sharp objects. Or....

How about designing a sock make out of Dyneema (http://www.dsm.com/products/dyneema/en_GB/home.html), a synthetic fiber that doesn't absorb water and is tougher than Kevlar to protect against hot sand and being penetrated by sharp objects?(The first of these two product concepts currently exists in the marketplace and is being sold as Sand Socks (www.sandsocks.net) among other brands. The second is in a Kickstarter campaign being run by Swiss Barefoot Company (http://fyf.io/).)This example shows how external technologies and supplier capabilities can be leveraged by companies to create new product concepts and also to help commercialize them. These resources can collaborate with your company's internal resources to leverage their combined capabilities and competencies to make these new products possible.

My clients and I regularly do this type of work. It is exciting, fun and does not need to be especially complicated. Confidentiality constraints prevent me from describing these projects to you. They cover a pretty broad array of product categories. If I could describe them to you, I'm quite confident that you would become even more excited about the possiblities of this approach.  

If you or your company would like to learn how to make better use of external innovation in your new product development work...or, if you have particular challenges that could potentially benefit from external resources, give me a call. 

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