and marketing new products demands the kinds of insights that
reality were like the cartoons, where eureka moments occur
accompanied by a light bulb flashing above the head of an
In the real world, discovering and then developing a bright
idea is not quite that easy, especially for companies looking
to market new products in a tightening economy. As many product
innovators might attest, a good, truly unique idea can be
hard to come by. Even tougher is the reality that a good idea
doesn't ensure a successful product; how the product is designed
and marketed to the target audience often proves the bigger
The role of innovation in the corporate world is simple: a
company's product is its raison d'etre. Every sales pitch,
advertising campaign, catalog, Web site, call center -- and
bottom line -- is at some level about the product or service.
"Product innovation is the engine that drives growth,
and no company can survive in the long run without a robust
new product innovation program," says Mohanbir Sawhney,
the Kellogg School's McCormick Tribune Professor of Electronic
Commerce and Technology.
MMM Entrepreneurship Program enables students to turn
an idea into a new product. Here, the founders of Go2Call.com
offer improved software for Internet telephony.
can generate revenue but more important, they establish a
company as an innovator. "New products are the lifeblood
of a company," explains James Conley, associate professor
of technology and e-commerce who has taught in the Master
of Management and Manufacturing curriculum (MMM), a joint
program between Kellogg and the McCormick School of Engineering.
"This is what in the mind of your customer distinguishes
you from a run-of-the-mill competitor. If you're always bringing
new things to the market, your company becomes known as a
leader, and that has value in the mind of the consumer."
"Organizations must be able to fuse business strategy
with new product design and development to remain competitive
in the marketplace," says Kellogg Dean Dipak Jain, a
marketing and new products expert. He notes the importance
of first creating an innovative mindset and then developing
these insights to bring a new product successfully to market.
Equally important, he says, is conducting a strategic audit
of your previous performance to assess the path your innovation
New-product successes establish companies as cutting-edge
pioneers. Kyocera Wireless Corp., a phone manufacturer, has
extended the capabilities of wireless technology with its
Smartphone, a cell phone and personal digital assistant in
one device. "I've thrown away my PalmPilot and my cell
phone," says Sawhney, who has a Smartphone and says it
is one of his favorite new product innovations.
Where it all begins
New product ideas can come from any number of places, including
research and development labs, marketing research, lead users
There are ideas that start in research and development labs
-- what Robert Kozinets, assistant professor of marketing,
calls "solutions that are looking for problems."
So, for example, a lab creates a technology because it can
-- not necessarily because consumers demanded the advance.
Then, there are more marketing-driven product ideas that come
from market research; a new flavor or a lower-fat version
of a food product, for instance. "Consumers really don't
tend to come up with the big breakthroughs themselves; they
tend to come up with the incremental improvement," explains
Kozinets, who teaches the marketing department's Introduction
to New Products and Services.
Another source of new product innovations are "lead users,"
Kozinets says. A lead user, an inventor of sorts, customizes
existing products to create a new product that fills a need.
So when people in the computer animation business needed faster
software, industry innovators were able to render pictures
faster for animated movies after tinkering with computer chips.
Such an innovation has a ripple effect: computer chip makers
then approached these lead users and asked if they could use
the technology in their chips.
Ideas can also come from salespeople in the field, Kozinets
notes, as well as retailers or customer complaints. "There
are almost as many different places to find new products as
there are new products themselves," he says.
Kozinets says one of the biggest challenges facing his students,
who must develop a new product over the course of his class,
is to come up with original ideas. "Every kind of idea
that you can think of, you tend to look at it and someone's
doing something similar. So there's a real frustration that
every area in the corner of every market is taken."
Kozinets suggests students read material they wouldn't normally
come across, such as science fiction or scientific journals.
He also asks students to consider what people are reading,
what their diets are like, what their concerns are -- and
how it might be possible to structure a good or service around
to the experts
It's an approach that's also followed by IDEO, a product design
firm based in Palo Alto, Calif., that created such products
as the Palm V. IDEO project teams have anywhere from two to
eight people, and include members such as industrial designers,
interaction designers, mechanical engineers or materials experts.
Tom Stat, director of business development for IDEO, says
the company looks at real people and their needs.
"There's a saying around here that people don't want
products," he explains. "People want to do what
people want to do. It's not about fighting with the cell phone,
laptop or VCR. It's about talking with friends and family,
accessing or processing information. Struggling with the product
is not supposed to be part of the activity. The perfect product
Companies looking to develop new products also turn to innovation
experts, such as Gerald "Solutionman" Haman, the
founder of SolutionPeople in Chicago. Kozinets brings such
experts into his classroom. Haman has helped companies such
as Dow, Kraft, Adidas and General Mills brainstorm by placing
them in "Thinkubators," or thought-provoking meeting
"If people want to 'think outside of the box,' they should
not be put in a box," contends Haman, who makes appearances
in his 'Solutionman' costume -- like Superman with a light
bulb head. Many teams experience "cubicle creativity,"
Haman says, whereby the size of their ideas is influenced
by the amount of space in which they have to think.
To overcome such creative blocks, SolutionPeople works with
companies using a four-step process of investigating needs,
creating ideas, evaluating solutions and activating plans.
In addition to dozens of other activities intended to foster
creativity, the company takes groups to see the Blue Man Group
and follows up with brainstorming sessions.
The MMM edge
Kellogg's MMM program also proves a great source for the sort
of creativity that leads to product innovation. "Creativity
and entrepreneurial drive are essential for successful managers,"
says Distinguished Professor Sunil Chopra, who serves as co-director
of MMM with colleague Professor Wally Hopp. Both faculty members
point to a recent survey conducted by the school revealing
that, since the start of the program a decade ago, nearly
20 percent of MMM graduates have gone on to own or found a
"Our core course on product development deals with the
process of bringing new products to market," explains
Hopp. "We give students experience in a number of key
areas centered around turning a new product into a real business."
Hopp also points out the strengths of the MMM Entrepreneurship
Program, which sponsors teams of students who actually pursue
the launch of new businesses. A number of these students have
actually started companies while still enrolled at Kellogg.
To fulfill the program's Integration Project requirement,
students work closely with faculty to turn a technological
innovation into a business venture.
Whateverand whomeverthe creative process of product
innovation involves, companies must ensure that they have
many channels from which to import ideas, Sawhney says. "You
have to look in many places, because you get different kinds
of ideas from different sources. It's important to have a
cross-functional team involved so you have many voices. That
adds to the richness of the ideas."