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Abbott Research

Looking for Innovation: Expand the Context

green umbrellaI was talking to an executive recruiter recently, who was describing the process of hiring people for middle management and executive level roles.

I learned that the hiring company’s on-boarding process – how good it is – makes a big impact on the likelihood that the newly hired executive will be a success.

“Great opportunity to expand your services,” I suggested.”Help your clients manage the on-boarding to ensure it is successful.”

Many product and service categories present this opportunity, and you should always look for these methods or approaches. It’s simple, really, as the diagram shows.

Every activity has a bigger context. The context might be emotional/motivational. But it might be functional. Or both.

Here’s a more day-to-day example, looking at carpentry tools.

Beginning context: customers want to make holes in wood. Beginning solution: a tool for hole making – perhaps an electric drill.

Ask why: why do they want to make holes in wood? Answer: insert fasteners.

Expanded context: Fastening pieces of wood together. Expanded solution: sell complete package of electric drill and drill set, and perhaps accessories like screw bits to fasten screws or bolts in the newly drilled holes.

Ask why: why are people fastening wood together? Answer: they are building decks and other home improvements.

Expanded context: deck building. Expanded solution: sell pre-cut lumber packaged into deck-building kits along with plans, and maybe add some YouTube videos to help people do it right.

There is nothing that a human being does in this life that does not have an expanded context. We wipe a mess up in the kitchen, we have laundry or garbage or both as a result. We shampoo our hair, so now we need to dry it and style it. You will sometimes hear this process called “laddering up”, or just “laddering.”

One of the simplest tools in my tool box is finding out what the context is for a given activity, and what new challenges or problems a consumer is encountering in meeting those goals. It’s as simple as asking “why?”