‘Freedom from the desire for an answer is essential to the understanding of the problem. If you understand the problem well, the answer will come out of it because the answer is not separate from the problem’ — J Krishnamurti
One of the important first steps in the innovation process is ‘discovery’, which is basically identifying the unmet needs of the consumer. Studying compensating behaviors is a good method to unlock the unmet needs of the customer as customers are compensating for the absence of a good solution either by using a product beyond its intended use or by using a product which was not designed to solve a particular problem. By capturing these compensating behaviors, aspiring innovators could develop new products or expand the scope of the existing products.
One of the classic examples of successful innovation by studying compensating behaviors is the ‘lasssi maker’ in India.
Some examples of compensating behaviors in an Indian context are highlighted below
So how do we study compensating behaviors? Other than the traditional immersion techniques like ethnography, social media technology can be effectively leveraged to capture powerful insights. The vast and diverse communities present in social media create rich conversations, visual communications and a curious question will lead to diverse perspectives and rich insights. An example is highlighted below
Once we study a compensating behavior and the real unmet need behind that behavior, the decision can be made on whether to borrow the ‘know-how’s from a product used in other parts of the world or rejig a product used for other purposes or to create a completely new product.
In the truck driver example, truck manufacturers can borrow cruise control technology used in cars in the developed countries and see how that technology can be used in the truck CONTEXT. It has to be made affordable and the context is key. The technology and the design will have to go through several iterations to satisfy the performance criteria in a different set of circumstances. In the absence of such products, a new product can be created.
Another ‘whitespace’ for candy manufacturers is to target the people who consume gutka or tobacco. Chewing tobacco is considered as the main reason for high tongue cancer rates among young Indians. People who chew tobacco place the tobacco in their palm and then crush the tobacco using their thumb as in the picture below.
Instead of trying to change their behaviour, if candy manufacturers can create a healthy product that is wrapped in a small pack with the strands similar to tobacco and allowing the users to crush it like how they do with real tobacco, there is a high likelihood for adoption among the existing users. It will also have a very positive social impact.
The answer lies in the problem and we need to ‘discover’ the problem by. Staying with the question and Studying compensating behaviors is a great first step to exciting new innovations.