Crazy Ideas

I spent last week putting the final touches on a Voice of the Customer research effort we conducted near the end of 2009.  As a product manager there is something very satisfying about coming back to the office with a list of potential ideas.

Listening to your customers is a great way to generate ideas.  Some of these ideas will align nicely with your current thinking and some will present challenges.  Then there are ideas that sound just plain crazy.

The just crazy ideas are usually the quickest to be dismissed.  The idea maybe technically impossible or cost prohibitive.  Often, it comes down to a belief that customers just won’t buy it.

However, paying attention to crazy ideas can pay off, and LEGOs are a great case study to prove it.  LEGO (eventually) started listening to the 5% minority of their customers (adults) who had become enthusiastic fans of the product line.  This minority set of customers were spending 50 times more a year than the 95% majority customer (the Gaspedal word of mouth marketing blog has a good overview of the LEGO case here).

The Death Star LEGO set is a perfect example of catering to the adult fan base.  With close to 4ooo pieces, 25 mini figures, a manned turbolaser, and a price tag of $399, the Death Star is not an item you casually pick up at the airport gift store (if you haven’t seen it, check out the time lapse video of the Death Star being assembled).

What LEGO did was re-frame their strategic goals while looking at their customer feedback.  Getting to Innovation is a book I would recomend for understanding the importance of framing when it comes to innovation.  From the book,

Failing to devote attention to how we frame innovation is a failure to test assumptions and, more than likely, adopt less than optimal perceptual frames.  How we see and define things determines how we behave.  If we do a less-than-adequate job of framing a problematic situation, we are less likely to resole it.

The (very) general idea is that by looking at your data through the same lens over and over again you are going to potentially miss significant opportunities.   Changing your assumptions and your questions can result in crazy ideas not being crazy.

As a side note, my son got the LEGO book for Christmas and it is filled with some fascinating facts worth sharing:

  • Approx. seven LEGO sets are sold each second
  • More than 400 million children and adults will play with LEGO bricks this year
  • On average there are 62 LEGO bricks for every person on earth
  • In the manufacture of LEGO bricks the machine tolerance is as small as 0.002 mm
Manned Turbolaser

4 thoughts on “Crazy Ideas

  1. Great post! Two questions… One, do you break down the requests and present various high-level results to your executives? Two, what percentage of customer-driven feature requests make-up your next release?

  2. Stewart,

    Great questions!

    I think for by the time you get to executive presentations you need to have it in recommendation format. Here is what we found and here are our plans for action.

    One of the challenges with a crazy idea is that you will have to educate your audience if you have re-framed a previous strategic objective without buy-in. You may have to do a lot of pre-selling before giving final recommendations so everyone has time to digest.

    As far as what percentage of feature requests make-up your next release, I think it really depends on the type of product and the market. I would say there should be a high percentage that tracks to customer insights/requests but don't have a general rule of thumb of what that is.

    Looking forward to hearing hearing your thoughts here.

    Thanks again for the feedback!


  3. Re: Exec presentation. Possibly. I would guess companies vary, as some want plans and some want input to the plans.

    Re: Feature request percentages. I agree. Products closer to the end-of-life will have a higher percentage than products closer to infancy. I am generally happy as long as each request has an external driver.

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