Cartoon: do not think about hamburgers!


Do Not Think About Hamburgers

And Other Essential Tips on Product Innovation

By Jeffrey Baumgartner


For the next 60 seconds do not think about hamburgers!

This is virtually impossible. By instructing your mind not to think about hamburgers, you inevitably think about hamburgers. The same thing happens when you think about improving upon a product: you inevitably think about the product which limits your ability to see the possibilities. If you are an expert in the product -- as you most likely are if your company makes the product in question -- it is harder still to see possibilities. Your mind's image is fixed on the product and competitors' similar products. Incidentally, using crowdsourcing is unlikely to help matters. Insisting that 10,000 people do not think about hamburgers simply leads 10,000 people to think about hamburgers.

Sadly, most product innovation starts with a brainstorm (or other creative thinking activity) on the challenge of "How might we improve our hamburgers?" The result, of course, is very hamburger-ish ideas: more ketchup, less ketchup, flavourings in the beef and so on. As a result, product innovation all too often is a matter of boring, incremental improvements.

It does not need to be like this. You can be much more innovative about new products. You simply need to change the way you think about hamburgers.


For the next 60 seconds, think about delicious meals you could make with quality minced beef ("ground beef" if you are an American)

That was not difficult, was it? You doubtless thought about hamburgers; but you presumably thought about other dishes you could make with minced beef. Even if you are a vegetarian (as I am), you could probably think of a variety of minced beef dishes.

By looking at the fundamental ingredient to a good hamburger -- quality minced beef -- you open your mind to a wider range of thinking. After all, mince can be used in hamburgers, meatloaf, bolognese sauce, lab nua (a spicy Thai beef salad) and steak tartare (a dish based on raw minced beef), to name but a few that came to my vegetarian mind. You can probably do even better!

You can do the same thing with product innovation. Think about the fundamental component or components of your product and then ask what else you might do with it/them.


For the next 60 seconds, think about simple and delicious meals you can eat with your hands

A simple to prepare but delicious meal [at least for beef lovers] that you can eat with your hands is fundamentally what a hamburger is all about. So, if you stop thinking about hamburgers in order to think about other simple hand-holdable meals you will find it easy to come up with concepts. You can also add constraints to focus creativity; for example think about vegetarian meals that can he held in the hand, or low cholesterol meals, or low calorie meals. If you run a hamburger restaurant, thinking like this can help you expand your menu to attract new customers as well as provide variety for existing customers.

You can do this with any product, deconstruct it into a basic concept that is not about the product, but its value to your customers and then use the value as the basis of innovation.


A new law requires that you become a vegetarian immediately. For the next 60 seconds, think about how could still make hamburgers

One of the fundamental assumptions behind hamburgers is that beef or another minced meat is widely available. But what if it was not? How could you make a hamburger without meat? There are vegetarian burgers, of course. But what else? What could you do with things like dairy foods, fish, seafood, vegetables, legumes, nuts and grains? Unless you are a skilled and imaginative cook, you will probably need to experiment in the kitchen in order to come up with a tasty meatless hamburger that works. But, I am sure a creative person like you can do it!

This is a great approach to product innovation: identifying assumptions associated with your product and asking what you would do if one or more of those assumptions suddenly became invalid. Because assumptions become so entrenched in our thinking, the challenge for most people is to identify the assumptions around the product they sell. Hence, it can be useful to bring in an outsider, such as a talented creativity facilitator, to help identify assumptions as well as scenarios in which the assumption becomes invalid.


For the next 60 seconds, think about crazy things that you would like to eat with a good hamburger

Traditionally, hamburgers are eaten with chips (French fries) and perhaps a salad. But what else would go nicely with a hamburger? How about Kimchi (a delicious, spice Korean salad made with pickled cabbage and garlic - lots of garlic)? How about sauces that you could dip your hamburger into while you eat it?

If you already have a quality product that is selling well, a great way to innovate is to devise complementary products that would appeal to existing customers. These products not only bring in new income, but enhance the quality of the existing product. If you run the only eatery that offers hamburgers with kimchi or dipping sauces, your hamburgers become more special and that makes the eating experience at your restaurant more special.


For the next 60 seconds, think about how would a Thai cook would prepare a hand-held minced beef based meal

Bread is not a traditional Thai food and most Thai dishes are eaten with a spoon and fork in Thailand (contrary to popular belief, chop sticks are not used with Thai food other than some noodle-based dishes, particularly those inspired by Chinese cooking). In the Northeast, food is often served with sticky rice and is traditionally eaten with the fingers, but not in a convenient, hamburger-like way.

Although spring rolls are not a traditional Thai food, they are well known in Thailand and would be familiar to a Thai cook. So, she might make a spice beef and vegetable filling that could be wrapped up in rice-based spring-roll wrappers and deep-fried or even steamed (as the Vietnamese do). This would make for an easy to eat, minced beef based dish as well as other easy to eat fusion dishes that combine European and Asian food concepts.

This is a great way to devise innovative product concepts: ask how another, completely different organisation (or person) would develop your product.


To think about new product ideas, do not think about your product

The lesson to be learned here is that when it comes time to start thinking about new products, avoid actually thinking about your product. It will only limit your thinking and stifle creativity. Instead think about other things that inspire you to understand your product in new ways. When you do so, creative ideas will come quickly!



Product Innovation Facilitation

If you would like a skilled facilitator to help you build new product concepts, I would be delighted to help! Contact me here or learn more about my services here.



© 2014


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Jeffrey Baumgartner
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Erps-Kwerps (near Leuven & Brussels) Belgium




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