Innovation Goes Sour Like Milk

A number of years ago a medical supply company (whom we will refer to as “X”) created a new tool for kidney health. However, because it’s a breakthrough product, company X couldn’t be sure of if this product will be successful. There were a lot of unknowns and risks. How big is the market size? Who is going to buy? How profitable will this be? Will this be a winner? So they called in Jeff to help them decide if they should indeed invest in this product.

Jeff knew that the only people who would be able to tell if X’s product was worth investing in further would be those posed to buy it, so Jeff suggested something interesting. He brought together the three groups that would benefit from this potential product. These groups included representatives from HMOs and insurance companies, doctors with their own family practices, and prominent doctors in hospitals (i.e. surgeons, anesthesiologists, etc.).

Much like the way a fishbowl works, these groups met in a hotel conference room, while the leaders of X watched from a camera on the outside to observe all activities. Before presenting the product, Jeff gave them all medical scenarios in which something like the product in question would be needed. It became apparent that each group cared about something different: HMO’s/insurance companies were interested in cost and access; family practice doctors were concerned about how many of their patients would benefit from the product, and hospital doctors were concerned about the efficiency/how much time it would take to use the product.

While the leaders of X were busy taking notes on the outside, Jeff introduced the product prototype to the groups on the inside. Each group had their own opinions about what they liked about the existing product and what it would still need to do to be of use to them.  Although the comments varied, many of them overlapped in one way or another. At this point, X’s officials were asked to come in and speak with the groups face to face to gain knowledge about the attributes of the product that were useful and that were not; helping them pinpoint what needed to be done and how to market their tool.

Because of Jeff and this fishbowl session, X was able to tweak their product until it was something that would be incredibly useful and in demand of all three groups that they worked with. The prototype was ready. It was time to manufacture and market it. It was also time for Jeff to end his involvement.

Unfortunately, the story did not end with a Happily Ever After. Still very risk averse, X decided to leave the product it in its prototype stage for a while longer to further study the potential market. X forgot that innovation is about dealing with ambiguous situation and that only has a short shelf-life. Like milk, innovation goes sour after a period of time. While X continued to hesitate with their product launch and conducted more market analysis, one of X’s competitors came out with a similar tool that was just as good as X’s, serving many of the same functions. Because of the delay, X had lost the edge for being the first to market with their product.

This particular story really shows what Jeff explains everyday: Innovation is a risk taking business. Jeff reminds us that there is no data on the future; companies rise and fall overnight, CEO’s go bankrupt or pass away, competitors come out with newer-more efficient products, or huge new innovations are introduced and the world just had to adapt. Once you have failed early and off Broadway and you are left with something of true value, arguably the most important step is then to believe in your innovation and run with it. If you don’t, no one else will either, and someone might just beat you to the finish line.

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