Beyond The Obvious by Phil McKinney – Innovation – Business Book Review – Knowing Your Customers

“Innovate” has become one of the most popular mantras in today’s hyper-competitive business world. True innovation requires hard work; and for those companies, regardless of size, dedicated to the process (and it is a process), a competitive advantage awaits them.

Phil McKinney is the author of the new book, Beyond The Obvious: Killer Questions That Spark Game-Changing Innovation. He’s an innovation expert who has served as Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for major technology companies and also leads innovation boot camps.

McKinney’s innovation paragon is based on laying the groundwork, which includes addressing your industry and company assumptions, managing the inevitable jolts, and neutralizing your corporate (or company) antibodies (naysayers).

From there, he advocates using the FIRE (Focus, Ideation, Ranking, Execution) method to generate viable ideas, along with the gated funding model.

McKinney tells the story of his ninety-three-year-old grandmother, relatable to innovation. His family bought her a digital picture frame that displays multiple photos on a rotating basis. Thinking it was the perfect gift, she thought otherwise. A child of the Depression Era, she viewed the device as costly to operate and a fire hazard. She unplugged the frame; and inserted one stationary photo for viewing. Nothing the McKinney’s said could change her mind.

“You can’t always assume you know who your customers are or why they might want, or reject what you’re offering them,” says McKinney.

Understanding your customer, whether developing a new product, service or process, depends on:

  1. Knowing their needs, wants (and sometimes, fears).
  2. Understanding the criteria they use to choose your product.

This is hard to do because it tends to be all about you. Your over-confidence, expertise, experience and education influence your broadest assumptions, which come from the narrowest of perceptions-your own.

McKinney asks. “Have you already decided what your customer wants without asking them? If so, remember:

  • You have biases and make judgments just like all of us.
  • Learning to detach from your own biases and opinion about a product’s relative worth is crucial.
  • If you can’t grasp this, you’ll never be to create an innovation that your customer either needs or wants.

You need to suspend your own assumptions about what an individual needs and wants; and get out there to explore, observe and ask questions. Allow your beliefs to be challenged and disproved.

Who isn’t using your product because of an assumption of skill or ability?

“The majority of the world’s population has never owned a personal computer,” says McKinney. Yet emerging markets, including India, have an escalating middle class. McKinney knows it’s smart business to focus on this trend.

McKinney and his team realized that these people aren’t interested in updating their Facebook page or sending tweets. They’re focused on relevancy and simplicity. Education, communication and entertainment are key. McKinney and company designed a simple computer to meet their needs that they didn’t even know they had.

They need it and want it; they just don’t know it yet. And if you don’t know you need or want something, then how can you ask for it?

This is a huge task as an innovator. You need to be able to analyze and understand your potential customers’ needs and wants before they are even able to clearly state them.

  • If you are stuck in the innovation process, remember that trying to save people time, thereby giving them a piece of their lives back, is a great start.
  • Never wait for your customers to ask for a product, because if you wait for them to make a request, you’re going to be stuck in a slow, incremental process of innovation.

Are your customers getting just an acceptable rather than ideal option to fill their needs? If it’s “acceptable,” you’re in trouble.

  • You must be aware and prepared for the possibility that everything you assumed to be true yesterday may be disproved today.
  • Do you assume your customers will remain loyal to you because they have never told you their needs are changing? If your answer is yes, then you’re comfortable, and that’s the most dangerous place to be because the business world is no longer a comfortable place and complacency will kill you.

Consider McKinney’s above thoughts regarding your customers when approaching your innovation efforts. They’re integral to capturing your competitive advantage.

For a list of the World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies, as ranked by Fast Company, visit: