“You know what’s weird? Day by day, nothing seems to change. But pretty soon… everything’s different.”
This is a quote by Bill Watterson, artist and the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, the cartoon strip about a six-year-old boy, Calvin, and his stuffed tiger toy, Hobbes. Calvin talks to his make-believe tiger all the time. Their ‘conversations’ always provoke my thoughts in many ways. How true that when we go about our routine day by day everything seems the same, but things out there are changing so fast that sometimes we are caught napping.
Take changes in consumer behaviour, for example. In the past, people read newspapers – the printed news were their daily staple. A day wasn’t complete without sifting through the dailies. Nowadays, the tablets, smartphones and other gadgets flash news at a swipe. News come alive with videos, live commentaries and pictures that pop out on various screens. Will these remain as they are today and way into the future? Very unlikely. And this has got to do with the entrepreneurial and innovative concept which I introduced and spoke about in this column last month: “If it’s man-made, it’s meant to be improved.”
The sequel to this concept is that every product or service created by man will evolve, for man’s creation is never perfect. The evolution happens with changing consumer behaviours. When we create or innovate a product without studying the changes in consumer behaviour then our product may end up piling in storage. So when we create a product, do it on the basis of catering to the lifestyle of consumers. If we don’t do this, we are creating it only to satisfy our own want and ego. Are we creating a product or service within our own ‘ego-system’ or the consumer eco-system? If we insist on creating to gratify our ego, subsequent efforts of creating a demand for it can be a herculean task. But when we create a product when there’s a known demand for it, the chances of it to succeed are greater. This is because humans don’t exist individually; we exist collectively, and a product that caters to the collective or common wants and needs will have a demand. If we don’t create a product according to the demand and lifestyle of the consumers then we will most likely fail even before we start.
I would like to share my simple recipe for developing compelling products all these years. There are six steps driven by six compelling questions:
What is the problem? Is it a Malaysian problem, a regional or a global one? This identifies the opportunity.
Can I provide the solution to that problem? This should be proprietary.
Are the consumers willing to pay for that solution to the problem? This signals the demand.
How much are they willing to pay for the solution? This tests commercial feasibility.
How many of them are willing to pay that amount for the solution? This defines business worth and market size.
If all the answers to the above are positive, and it becomes worthwhile for you to create the solution to that problem then you must protect your intellectual property (patent, trademark or copyright) so that you can continuously harvest what you once sow.
The above are the ‘generic’ steps to take in developing a product. Obviously there are micro steps to make them work, including developing a prototype, product testing and iteration as well as foreseeing future changes in consumer behaviour.
An inspirational aspect of Calvin and Hobbes is the mischief-seeking Calvin’s inventiveness in creating all sorts of games, which he plays with Hobbes. The tiger will always win the games because it creates its own rules as and when the two of them play. So I adopt this concept of creating own rules. When I started out as an entrepreneur, I didn’t know the rules, so I had the freedom to create my own rules. Some may call this ‘thinking out of the box’. Many people like to parrot this term, hence acknowledging that there’s a box. If we are out to create and innovate, there shouldn’t be any box in the first place. Let our mind wander free. There are limitless possibilities.
Another thing I always try to avoid is playing the ‘catch-up game’ and fishing in the same pond where thousands have also cast their lines. This is based on my belief that there are still many products waiting to be found, and many industries waiting to be born. Let’s go back to the old days. What if you were the one who gave birth to the first car or the automotive industry back in the day? Bear in mind that this industry didn’t exist way before that. If you were the one who founded the industry, wouldn’t you be a multi-billionaire today? Now imagine yourself in the 2030s and beyond. There will be products that will become a necessity to people living in the future such as the i-pad or the smartphone that we have today. So think of things which are not here yet, not created yet. Stretch your mind way beyond the present time. Don’t allow anyone who says a certain thing is always done a certain way to get in your way. Be a non-conformist. Disrupt the norm so that you can come out with lots of original ideas.
Just because the majority of people say something should be such and such, it doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing. I don’t necessarily conform even if the majority say so. We represent perfection in creation with a brain and mind to think. In business, for instance, there are merits and niches and you have to find your own. When every other company move this way or that way, you have to be the exception to the rule. Once you have your own ideas, you must plan, take action and process your strategy to make your ideas work.
Datuk Azrin Mohd Noor is the founder of Sedania Group, an innovator, author and IP expert. Reach him at email@example.com
This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia - The week of November 5 - November 11 2018