Designing Breakthrough Products

Powerful Essays
114 Harvard Business Review October 2011

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Roberto Verganti is a professor of the management of innovation at Politecnico di Milano and the author of Design-Driven Innovation (Harvard Business Press, 2009).

How companies can systematically create innovations that customers don’t even know they want by Roberto Verganti

ACCESS TO TECHNOLOGICAL opportunities is becoming increasingly easy. Thanks to the collaboration the internet has made possible and the open innovation it has spurred, we live in a world where ideas and solutions are abundant. The main challenge facing innovation managers today is how to take advantage of this wealth of opportunities. Being first to launch a new technology is less important than being first to envision its greatest untapped market potential. Well-known examples of companies that did the latter include Nintendo, Apple, and Swatch. All three have used technology to radically change the meaning of offerings in a category—why customers buy or how they use a product. Nintendo’s clever application of MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems) accelerometers transformed the experience of playing with game consoles from passive immersion in a virtual world into active physical entertainment. Apple’s creation of the iPod and the iTunes Store made it easier for people to discover and buy new music and organize it into personal playlists, and provided a solution to the piracy that was threatening to destroy the music industry. And Swatch used inexpensive quartz technology to change watches from timekeeping tools into affordable fashion accessories. These companies weren’t necessarily the first to introduce a new technology in the product category (the iPod
October 2011 Harvard Business Review 115

PHOTOGRAPHY: ELIE HONEIN

DESIGNING BREAKTHROUGH PRODUCTS

was released in 2001, four years after the first MP3 player), but they unveiled its most meaningful and profitable form. I call the strategies that led to these products

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