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December 17, 2012


Want great products? Start thinking out of the box

by Tom De Baere

bic pensEverybody knows you should be listening to your customers. Give them what they want, right?

And we all think we are doing that: because we have sales guys in the field talking to customers. Because we have marketing people doing desk research, going to conferences, having discussions with customers and what not. And the management team is having important meetings with key customers, and key staff that are knowledgeable.

They know what your customers want, isn’t it?

And then what happens? We all jump into product brainstorm sessions, in which you have lots of people venting their opinions about what customers want. We use the input from sales, marketing and the management team to influence the product or service we want to create.

In the end, this is what you get:

  • A product idea might come from a sales guy who needs it for 1 single customer.
  • An idea comes from a product manager who heard it at a tradeshow from 3 different customers.
  • A marketing manager made a study about a certain market and feels that this would be the future.
  • A product architect thinks that a product is needed because it would fit his vision of what a great architecture should be.
  • And some opinions are stronger than other ones, or just vented by people who have more power in the organisation, which in the end make it to a product easier than “weaker” people in the organisation.

Great products are not created like that

That’s totally wrong. Great products are not created like that.

Great products are created starting from the core business issues of a customer, and from the core strengths of your company.

Using these core business issues you need to think OUTSIDE of what you have today, and link it with your strengths. Start thinking out of the box, from the outside to the inside.

Thinking from the OUTSIDE to the INSIDE

bic razorsYou can compare it to BIC, you know, the guys who make pens?

How on earth did they start selling razors?

Because they looked at what they did from OUTSIDE the world of pens. They saw they where in the business of consumable products.

And that’s what made them decide to start selling disposable, use-once razors, but also lighters, correctors and a lot of other products.

They didn’t go out and talk to customers about pens. They listened to what their customers where really seeking, and then thought about that.

That’s what happens when you think outside what you do for your customers today. And take that back to the inside. And built them from your inner strengths.

Creating boxes outside the box

Recently I went to a marketing event ( in which Luc De Brabandere talked about this subject and took it further than only looking from the outside to the inside.

Once outside the box, we need to construct a new box or boxes (that is, new intellectual frameworks or models) to help us structure our thinking. Only once we have done so can we generate truly game-changing ideas.

That’s why Apple made the iPod, and not Sony.

That’s why Google Search also resulted in Google Earth

That’s why Philips, a consumer brand, dominates the healthcare market

That’s why Michelin, the tire manufacturer, is now the safety specialist.

That’s why IBM, the computer manufacture, has entered the consulting business.

It is a new paradigm in business creativity that won’t bring any new recipe, but will make you even more hungry!
To think in new boxes is the best way to survive … success!

You can find his full speech in French (sorry for english speaking blog visitors) here :

Do yourself a favor, and watch this. I promise, you won’t regret it. The guy is funny, inspiring and refreshing !

Further reading about this great thinking concept can be found by clicking here.

Warm regards,

Tom De Baere