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If you had asked a farmer 150 years ago what would make farming easier, he’d most likely have said a better draught horse; he wouldn’t have imagined a tractor, even though steam engines had been in use for decades. That’s because customers don’t know what they want until they know what’s possible. They are locked in by what they know.
My wife is working on a new kitchen and invited three kitchen makers to submit designs and quotes. The first two focused on the kitchen as an installation and put forward competent proposals, mainly changing under-bench cupboards to drawers and improving aesthetics.
The third, however, has absolutely won her heart by focusing on the kitchen’s functional purpose – the beauty in utility. He points out that, for many people, TV shows like My Kitchen Rules have changed perceptions of cooking from a chore to entertainment – almost a competitive sport – where ingredients, appliances and utensils are “at the ready”, accessible in an instant, as seems to happen on TV.
For this reason, he claims, there is a fundamental change of concept under way in kitchens, from storing ingredients and tools in pantries and compartments, to making them instantly accessible to the operator (or ruler!). The kitchen, he says, should be designed to reflect this new concept. Imagine how an always-ready and mobile power plant opened up a whole new concept of farming – a move for the farmer from sweat to supervision.
Regular readers know I frequently refer to entrepreneurs who succeed magnificently because they change the concept of the way things are done. Apple changed the concept of the phone to, among other things, a compelling way of selling and using music. Dyson repeatedly changes traditional concepts – vacuum cleaners without filter bags that instead use centrifugal force to spin dust out of an airflow; and hand dryers that wipe hands with a high speed blade of air rather than try to evaporate moisture with heated air.
It’s important to distinguish a concept from an idea. You change a concept by going back to the fundamental purpose – say, of a draught horse, kitchen, phone, vacuum cleaner or hand dryer, and forcing the mind to consider different ways of achieving it. A new stream of ideas is likely to flow from such concept changes and some may add real value.
John Lyons is an independent company director and a co-author with Edward de Bono.