Saturday, May 12, 2007

Innovation Inspiration: Half-Cooked Kebobs

Promoted as a “Must-have gadget for grill enthusiasts,” the Gagetek Propane Tank Scale is interesting to me on a few fronts. First off, I’ve been the victim of running out of propane with a load of half-cooked food sitting on the grill on more than one occasion. I then jump in the car to get a fresh tank with a scowl on my face. This Gagetek scale lets you know when you’re about to run out of propane by knowing how much the tank weighs. There’s an intuitive interface that easily let’s you know how much propane is left whenever you are ready to BBQ. It’s a smart, simple solution to a common problem, and probably something that will rid the world of many other scowling grill-folk.

Another interest I have here is to learn more about the process that develops innovations such as this. In the grilling world I’ve heard of Weber, Char-Broil, Ducane, Viking and even George Foreman (who just released an MP3-ready iGrill…seriously). So who is Gagetek and how do they fit in this world of outdoor grilling? Gagetek is a company that has won awards for their torsional load cell technology. They also designed a portable scale system for weighing large animals for Zoos. I must admit I don’t have the faintest idea what a torsional anything is, but I don’t feel so bad because Microsoft Word doesn’t either.

I spoke with Al Werner, the inventor of the Gagetek grill product. He told me that the inspiration came from the same frustration I have faced. The device he used to have on his patio didn’t work well, so he spent the last 3 years inventing a better one. He leveraged patented technology used in the other Gagetek products to develop this BBQ-saving piece of grill equipment. One of these other Gagetek products, the ZooScale, is really wonderful because it makes it easy to monitor the weight of large animals to make sure they are healthy.

Both of these examples of innovation identified a need in the marketplace and a usable solution was designed around it. They also came as the result of an entrepreneurial spirit. Why didn’t others that are already in these spaces do this? Shouldn’t they know their customers better than people outside their industry? I’m sure interviews with customers could have easily uncovered this and many other needs that could be filled. Is an iPod holder really what people that grill need? Did that really come out of customer interviews?

Product teams need to spend more times talking with customers and uncovering the threads that lead to innovation. Identifying things that enhance the user experience is not rocket science, but it takes commitment and has to be an official part of the product lifecycle. Most organizations have low-hanging-fruit mechanisms for gathering product ideas, but there aren’t enough who make listening to customers a priority.


Steve Portigal said...

Wait - you're doing interviews for your blog now? How journalistic!

Michael Grossman said...

Does this mean I'm disqualified from the blogosphere?