What if…

True innovation can often come from a basic questioning of the status quo.  It can simply come from asking “What if…?”  The ideas that answer that question may be “blue sky” ideas but they can lead to “game changing” innovation that take a company from a red ocean to a blue ocean.

A “What if…” question is often based on a consumer insight, explicitly or implicitly.  What if my trash can did not have to smell like one or be so disgusting?  Sounds a bit “blue sky”?  After all, it is trash.  The input is always the same and over time, it naturally decomposes and starts to smell.  So unless the input changes, the output will remain the same – status quo.  Well, the folks at Hefty(r) found a solution – BlackOut Kitchen Bags with OdorBlock technology.  The black bags make trash less visible and the odor blocking technology hides the smell.  Is it “game changing” innovation?  In my mind, it changes the category.  Trash bags now actually mitigate the two things that make trash so unappealing.  Granted, it will never be appealing, but it will change the quality of my life – noticeably.  And that is game changing, because now you will have smelly trash bags and OdorBlock trash bags.

But it is not all that easy.  The “What if…?” question is not a panacea.  Just because the idea answering this question is innovative, you have to keep in mind the marketplace in which the product will finally be compared in.  Take, for example, method(r) laundry detergent – just pump to dispense your laundry detergent!  Easy to measure (sans measuring cup to clean each time), comes in a small bottle rather than a mega plastic container, uses plant-based ingredients – great idea.  But the market leader is at $14.99 for 64 loads (Tide 2x Ultra Original Scent Liquid Laundry, 100 oz).  The price of method’s innovative product?  $15.49 for 50 loads.  I get 14 more loads essentially free with Tide.  That is a very large premium to pay.  The convenience of not having to mess with a soapy measuring cup (and it is a pain point) may not be worth the premium for many consumers.  I would not be surprised if Tide comes out with a pump product in the near future for roughly its current everyday price.

The answer to a “what if…” question can be very powerful, and lead to “game changing” innovation, but it is not always the “end all, be all” answer.  Other factors need to be considered to make the answer truly innovative.

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