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The trigger factor.

Creativity is in--not only is it in, it's hot. Companies are shelling out big dollars for all kinds of programs that are supposed to enhance the creativity of their new-product people. The presumption is that this investment will lead to better ideas for new products.

Many of these attempts at creativity enhancement, however, suffer from three serious shortcomings. The biggest of these is that they treat creativity as some mysterious, ethereal trip through the Land of Oz without any end in sight. Those selling the trip are oblivious to the fact that, if it doesn't result in the ability to develop more and better ideas for new products, then it was for naught.

The second shortcoming is that creativity is too often depicted solely as a process for assembling pieces of ideas in new ways that may eventually emerge as a new product. In short, it is seen only as an act of construction, as if the tour guides had organized a magnificent scavenger hunt for bits and pieces that they hope will eventually fit together.

The third shortcoming is a lack of awareness of what I call "the trigger factor." Most of us encounter leads for hot new products every day. It is equally true, however, that most of us are completely unaware that we have been exposed to such a treasure trove because we have no concept of "the trigger factor."

The trigger factor is that seemingly innocuous fleeting flash that turns a transitory event into a hot idea.

Perhaps the best known such event is the page markers that fell out of Art Fry's hymn book. That event was the trigger that ultimately led to his inventing 3M's Post-it note pads.

The interesting thing is that Art Fry had sung in the church choir for years, and the slips of paper he used to mark the selections in his hymn book had been falling out for years. Yet, he did nothing about the problem until his subconscious suddenly reacted and triggered his creative juices. His dissatisfaction became a trigger factor.

Or you can go back severa decades to a young scientist taking pictures of his daughter while on vacation. His excited offspring demanded to see the results of her looking at the birdie," only to be told that she'd have to wait a week until the film was developed. The child's dissatisfaction with this response became her father's trigger factor. Less than an hour later, Edwin Land conjured up his mental image of instant photography.

Certainly hundreds, more likely thousands, of choir members and picture-taking fathers experienced these same happenings without seeing the hidden opportunity they contained. They missed the trigger factor.

The trigger factor is the refusal to take things for granted. It's the mental discipline and curiosity to examine every event to see if it contains a "dissatisfaction factor" and to ask how this dissatisfaction might be overcome.

The inventor of intermittent windshield wipers for automobiles recently won a multimillion dollar settlement from Detroit for their unauthorized expropriation of his invention. Collectively, the major automakers must have thousands of engineers on their payrolls, and it's probably safe to bet that they drive cars and that they have driven in the rain. Thus, they must have experienced the exasperation of having to turn their windshield wipers on and off during a light rainfall.

The bottom line is that not one of these "experts" saw this need as a dissatisfier; to them it was not a trigger factor. Herman Kahn once observed that experts often miss things because they are experts and, as a result, have ironclad perspectives that they cannot see beyond. He referred to this phenomenon as "educated incapacity." When people take themselves too seriously, they often become oblivious to the world as it passes by them. What might be seen as a significant event, a trigger, by one person, is background noise to the multitudes.

Every person in your organization is exposed to such events every day, yet the vast majority of them are oblivious to these events. Some of these unrecognized, and thus unchallenged, dissatisfactions just might have fantastic new product potential.

How do you catch them as they go passing by? How do you turn them into triggers? It's simple. You just need to momentarily freeze each happening as it passes in review and ask yourself if there's any dissatisfaction buried in it. If there is, ask why?--and how it might be overcome.

It's that simple. But if it is so simple, why didn't Art Fry invent Post-it notes the first time the paper markers fell from his hymn book?

The answer is obvious. The first time it happened his dissatisfaction was probably subconscious. He didn't recognize it; it didn't come up to the trigger factor level for him. Why? Well, I guess most of us will put up with anything once, or is it twice, or is it . . . ?
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Title Annotation:Product Development; dissatisfaction brings about ideas for new products
Author:Altier, William J.
Publication:R & D
Article Type:column
Date:May 1, 1991
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