Book review. Who do you want your customers to become

shopping carts thin


“Who do you want your customers to become” by Michael Schrage is essential reading for all Innovators.

This is a short and succinct book – you can read it in one sitting (my favourite type 😉 ) and has a very powerful concept which he calls the ‘innovation ask’.

[ezcol_4fifth]Organisations typically innovate by going out and looking to identify a need and then innovating to meet that need, they often fail to recognise that it may be necessary for their innovation to transform their customers into something else.

One great example of this is the inventor of the shopping cart, Sylvan Goldman. During the Great Depression he owned Oklahoma City’s Standard Food Stores and Humpty Dumpty chain. He watched his female clientele shop in 1936 and was struck by the obvious; whenever the wicker shopping basket that he provided was full, the shopper stopped shopping. He made the basket bigger but a new threshold appeared – as soon as they were too heavy, they stopped shopping. The innovation was a big basket that wouldn’t be too heavy – a basket on wheels! He had a great innovation – it did exactly what he wanted it to do, didn’t work. [/ezcol_4fifth] [ezcol_1fifth_end]who do you want your customers to become[/ezcol_1fifth_end]

The innovation ‘asked’ his shoppers to do something different – to push a cart rather than carry a basket but it appeared that his female shoppers didn’t want to be seen to be pushing a pram and his male shoppers were insulted to think that they couldn’t carry a basket. Far from being pleased that the cart made shopping quicker, easier and more convenient, his shoppers felt insulted.

He then hired a few extra staff to pretend to be shoppers pushing a cart near the entrance to the store full of shopping and another to encourage shoppers to take a cart saying “look, everyone is using them, why don’t you take a cart”. His innovation took off.

Which is the next vital insight; Innovation is as much about designing customers as it is designing products and services.

By showing his customers that other shoppers were using the carts he changed the ‘ask’ from ‘do something new’ to ‘follow everyone else and make the task of shopping easier’.

I can think of a number of innovations that I personally believed in that ultimately failed because it ‘asked’ the customers to be something different and challenging which the innovation didn’t cater for.

I launched a Lean start-up called idrcloud ( which was a facebook app that allowed Page owners to set-up idea competitions. It gained some, but limited traction. I pivoted the idea to something else. The ‘innovation ask’ was for the customer (the business owners who also run a facebook Page) to become a competition manager; to design a competition, set a prize, get the ball rolling with some initial ideas, encourage participation and select and reward a winner. To some people this came naturally, but to many it didn’t- it was too big an ask. I focused more time and resources on the software (which I saw as the innovation) than the customer. 

[ezcol_4fifth]Equally I can think of a number of innovations that were late to the market but succeeded where their predecessors failed, potentially because they focused more on their customer vision and their ‘ask’.

Every innovation needs users and therefore has an ‘ask’ for that user group.

The book is well worth a read. If you want more information or a chat about your ‘innovation ask’ please don’t hesitate to get in contact.

You can buy the book on the link here. Enjoy.[/ezcol_4fifth]

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