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Adjustment to the Environment

A tool for accelerated product evolution

First published in hebrew in "Status - management thinking magazine", issue 98, August 1999.
Authors: Ari Manor, CEO, ZOOZ (former CEO of SIT), and Idit Biton, Marketing manager, SIT.

A. The natural evolution of products

Examine the pen you're holding: it began as a pretty awkward product - a feather and an inkwell.

Fig. 1: Feather and inkwell

Throughout the years this product has undergone a long series of changes and has become better adjusted to its purpose (as a writing tool) and to its close environment (the hand, paper, pen-case, shirt pocket, etc). The evolution of the current ball-point pen consisted of the following changes, among others:

  • Replacing the feather tip with a cylinder with a pen-point (a metal tip) - for better grip and comfort
  • Replacing the inkwell with a replaceable refill - ink became part of the pen and made it easier to carry
  • Adding a hook - for hanging the pen on a pocket or belt
  • Replacing the pen-point with a ball-point mechanism - for easier and more uniform writing, and preventing ink leakage

Fig. 2: Ball-point pen

The contemporary ball-point pen is only an example of a more general rule that applies to all products: every product undergoes a process of evolution- a series of changes that improve it. It is worth noting that the rate at which the changes happen - the rate of evolution for a given product - is usually dictated by the level of competition among maufacturers. In highly competitive markets, manufacturers must come up with many more innovations.

B. The Innovation Race

In today's informtion era and communication revolution, the level of competition in most areas is rising (when a product succeeds, the manufacturer can't hide it, and competition arrives shortly thereafter). In many cases, as a result of the high level of competition, the manufacturers' need to innovate is greater than the consumers' ability to adapt to changes.

At times, competition is so fierce that manufacturers introduce seemingly improved models (a tape recorder with more buttons, different design, etc.), which are less practical and of lower quality than previous models. This phenomenon, worthy of the name "fictional product evolution ," demonstrates the need to innovate "at all costs". 

There are additional reasons for the need to adjust and change products. Among them we may refer to market response (especially when a new product fails to take off as expected) and the emergence of new technologies, which change the rules of the game. In order to respond to the constant need for product updates and repeated innovation, manufacturers usually do one or more of the following:

  • Perform market surveys and perception tests
  • Listen to consumer complaints (hoping to gain some insight on new improvement methods )
  • Check how new technologies may be used for product improvement
  • Monitor competitor activity (conventions and fairs, product brochures, new products on the shelves, industrial espionage, etc.)

C. Information vs. Innovation

While the need for product improvements rises, innovation has become more difficult than ever before. It is hard to surprise the competition since they have instant, up-to-date, and relatively inexpensive electronic information at their disposal:
  • Information concerning clients' needs - commercial databases of market surveys in a variety of fields that are not exclusively available to just one party
  • Information concerning new technologies - technological fair summaries are usually available free of charge through the organizers' websites
  • Information concerning new products - convention and fair summaries, including detailed descriptions of the innovations, are available through electronic media or the organizers' websites

In this respect, it's important to point out the two most dominant features of electronic information mentioned above, which make it so effective:

  • Promptness - by the time a fair opens, and sometimes before it does, one can read about what's being displayed in the fair.
  • Global accessibilty -  one can access the information from anywhere on the globe via the Internet.

These characteristics and their implications created a new profession - the information specialist: exploring the abundant electronic information in order to meet the organization’s informational demands (e.g. locating promising technologies).

The information revolution has therefore contributed to the availability of electronic information and rising competition, and has thus broadened the gap between the (decreasing) ability to surprise the competitors, and the (intensifying) desire to innovate.

The SIT method for New Promise Development (NPD) aims to reduce this gap. It allows for "accelerated product and service evolution", without turning to external information sources. The SIT method examines a given product and the changes it has undergone so far, and establishes what further changes are possible. These potential changes lead to new product ideas, as demonstrated below.

To read how it's done - continue here