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Innovation and Utility: Not Strange Bedfellows, But the Same Fellow

Something Really New is something really new, inasmuch as it is a book that, as its subtitle promises, includes “three simple steps” that can be used to create products. “Innovative products.” Denis J.

Something Really New is something really new, inasmuch as it is a book that, as its subtitle promises, includes “three simple steps” that can be used to create products. “Innovative products.” Denis J. Hauptly does come forth with a straightforward approach for product development. And he is big on innovative products. As in noting, “Innovation drives top-line growth, and it delivers bottom-line growth, as well, if done effectively” and “Innovation energizes as business” and “Innovation matters because people buy two things: commodities and innovations. For the former, they pay the lowest price they can find, and for the latter, they pay a premium. Which type of business do you want to be in?” While many people would undoubtedly say that they’d prefer being in the business that develops innovative products, it seems as though all too many pay more attention to just getting by, which results in the creation of commodities and the consequent drive to cut costs by any means necessary, which leads to more commodity type products, until, of course, they’ve commoditized themselves out of business.

So what are the steps? They are the answering of the following questions in a deep, not superficial, way:

  1. What task is a product really used for?
  2. Are there any steps that can be removed from the task?
  3. What are the next tasks that the user will want to perform after using the product?

Too often, people concentrate on function and form when they ought to be paying attention to utility. Hauptly observes, “The phrase ‘This is the greatest thing since sliced bread’ encapsulates the goal of an innovator: saving actual work in the completion of a task. The saving of work represents utility, and remember, net utility is what innovation is all about.” And, “We may be interested in looks when we buy, but we do not buy on looks alone. Utility is the reason we went shopping in the first place.”

One way of thinking about this is to consider the charge that some people within the Detroit Three have made against the vehicles produced by Toyota: “They’re just appliances. Toasters.” Which is precisely the point of why people buy more Camrys each year than any other car. What are the tasks that a car is really used for? Most of them center on transportation, which means that the car has to be reliable. Which is what Toyota has built a reputation on being. While some companies focus on aesthetics, Hauptly points out, “We may be interested in looks when we buy, but we do not buy on looks alone. Utility is the reason we went shopping in the first place.” And the utility of a car or truck has a lot to do with getting from A to B without an intermediate stop at a repair facility.

Hauptly is critical of “cool.” “Cool is often clever, but it is rarely useful. We are attracted to cool and we will tell our friends about it, but not many of us will buy it.” So let me say that this is not a cool book.—GSV