Perfect, Safe, Easy and Cheap: 4 Values In Any Product Or Process

What are the customer’s 'wants'? Can we classify them and is there an evolution over time? Can we use the patent database to uncover the existing angles of value? This article suggests a structure, a value equation, as a powerful start of an innovation strategy. The surfboard is used as a case study.

Everything starts from the customer. This is the person we want to bring value towards. Once we have identified the requests of our customer, we have the target value equation. The figure (Fig. 1) below shows some typical questions during a surfboard purchase:

Customer 'wants'

Fig. 1 Typical 'wants' for a surfboard: Performance [P], Less Harm [H], Better Interface [I] and Cost [C]

The innovation value of new solutions can be measured on the basis of 4 factors: performance, harmful effects, user ease and expense. In short, this leads us to 4 perspectives for innovation:

  • Performance [P]: increase in performance of the addition of functions
  • Less Harm [H]: decrease in damaging effects
  • Better interface [I]: more ease of use
  • Cost [C]: better overall economics

The example requests in the figure (Fig. 1) above are classified along this 4 different values. It is the task of the innovator to view these 4 values and categorizing them. We can identify these terms in patents where the inventor claims beneficial customer advantage. The figure (Fig. 2) below shows a Value Equation analysis for a surfboard patent pool:

Value Equation for a surfboard

Fig. 2 Value Equation analysis for a surfboard patent pool

The analysis (Fig. 2) shows the 4 different factors where the size of the terms is related to the number of occurrences in the patent pool. Performance is about increasing value by “more of the good”, all other factors are about adding value by "reducing the bad", harm, burden or cost.

Performance: What can be better, what can be more?

This is the most evident factor to improve. It is about what the product is meant to do; its main function. A surfboard needs to surf, to glide, to balance, to steer. If you improve on the main function, you compete on performance.

Harm: What can be less damaging, less harmful?

Rather than focussing on more of the good, here we aim to reducing the bad. This is also creating more total value. This second focus of value creation is the reduction of harmful effects. It is about durability, reliability and safety. This innovation addresses issues such as reducing waste, not warming up, more noiseless applications, safer or more trustworthy applications. For the surfboard this means for instance a greener board, or a softer grip surface that doesn’t scour the skin.

The trend in durability links also close to the environmental innovation, an eco-board? Ideally this value goes to harmless, bio or even restorative...can it be not damaging or even cure, a self-repairing surfboard for example since self-repairing composites are available.

Interface: Can it be fewer burdens? What can be easier? What more convenient?

A third perspective of value creation is the use of user friendliness or ergonomic innovation. The product can have the same performance or harm, but just easier to use. How convenient and ergonomic is the interface built up? Can we make the surfboard easier to transport, easier to attach on the car, magnetic? It is not about the main function of the product, but about all the actions it undergoes through the usage. The surfboard may be easier to wax, to hold or carry, to connect different fins depending on conditions, easier to store, better grip to stand, lighter or smaller to transport, aesthetically more pleasing to view, fluorescent to illuminate, transparent packing to inspect the sea, etc. Anything related to beauty, aesthetics or style, we also classify in interface, as it relates to how the user interacts with the product.

The ultimate user friendly product is one where no interface is necessary. This is where self- is an important term: self-service, self-tapping, self-locking, self-supporting, self-adjusting are all in the patent pool. The Self analysis in the figure (Fig. 3) below shows all functions and actions for a surfboard that are done automatically or by themselves:


Fig. 3 Shows all self- terms in the surfboard patent pool

Cost: What can be more economic?

Finally, and very popular in some sectors is economic innovation. The same for less: surplus value created through reduced expense, while maintaining functionality. Can we make the surfboard cheaper? A technique to reduce costs is to try and eliminate components whilst keeping all functionality. This is achieved by combining functionalities like a click cover so it is both cover and click, so screws or glue can be eliminated, a one component surfboard? Can we sell the components for a cheaper DIY board? Is there a different business model possible such as pay per use, leasing, sponsored or membership formulas?

Increase, decrease, stabilise?

A different spotlight to the patent pool, giving a fast overview of the challenges of the domain is the Modifier analysis. The Modifier analysis in the figure (Fig. 4) below generates an overview of the topics that people try to optimize:


Fig. 4 Highlights what terms are to be increased, decreased or stabilised in the surfboard patent pool

At AULIVE we believe in 'computer-aided-innovation'. Given all the data from the patents, the innovator can build a fine-tuned value equation. That value equation can be the base of the strategy of the product. Do we create a high performance, high price, a green product, or a low or a moderate performance – good enough – low cost product? Within the S-curve evolution of products there is a trend in focussing first in performance (make it work), than reliability (make it work properly) then convenience (make it easy to use) and last price (make it cheaper).

values over time

Fig. 5 Value over time as scanned through the patent pool of surfboards.

The figure (Fig. 5) above shows that the values bring angles of innovation to the product life cycle. By using a fine-tuned selected set of value terms, the graph indicates a correlation of the values over time in S-Curve steps of performance, reliability, convenience and price.

The Value Equation brings structure at the start of an innovation process. Once a definite Value Equation is made, it can be used by all departments to strategically pick working areas, by which the new product takes a specific position within the market. By analysing patents in this way, the actors on the market can be differentiated in which values they want to promote to their customers. Furthermore, new angles can be identified; a company culture could have a history in high performance – high price value, but find more value in a new market for lower performing – much lower price products. It is an equation V = P – (H + I + C). Over time performance goes to perfection, harm goes to bio, harmless or restorative, interface goes to zero or self, and cost goes to free, all towards maximum function, minimum system. Give it to me perfect, now, here, free, and I’ll take it…maybe.

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