(Re)building Trust in the Healthcare System

Design Articles
Oct 30, 2015

Earlier this month, it was reported that 22 patients in a renal ward of the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) have been infected with the deadly hepatitis C virus. 4 have since died. The current prognosis is that it was likely due to cross-contamination across medical equipment

I’m convinced that the hospital in question and the Ministry of Health will take steps in identifying the root cause and fixing the problem, however the real victim in this series of unfortunate events is trust.

If we took a user or customer centric point of view to these proceedings, we will soon realize that the basic reason for medical institutions to exist has not been held. All this said with no disrespect to the many professionals in the industry, many of whom are my good friends.

In design thinking, we often adopt a problem solving mindset we call: “Jobs to be done”, or “What’s in it for me?”. This helps us understand what is in the mind (or heart) of the consumer when he or she visits a medical institution. In most cases, our research tells us that this “job” is to get well.

In this case of cross contamination due to poor infection control, not only did patients not get well, they just happen to pick up an incurable disease as well.

This aligns with some ethnographic research that we did some time back when people whispered to us that there are certain “hospitals” you don’t bring the sick or elderly to…if you do they never leave.

When people’s deep-seated needs and motivations have not been satisfied, they lose trust in the system. Further reports telling us that such infections are rare is only going to create more cynicism.

While this challenge of building trust is a wicked one to solve, some basic principles apply.

Say Sorry – To the credit of all the parties involved this was done. Admission of guilt shows that you are taking responsibility and ownership of the problem. Nothing diffuses hate and distrust quicker than saying sorry.

Transparency – This is one of the cornerstones of building trust, which unfortunately, takes guts to deliver authentically. People don’t like to see the responsible parties hiding behind bureaucracy or even things beyond their control. Try engaging your stakeholders (patients, caregivers etc.) by brining them into your organization to validate what you have done to solve the problem. Even better, work with them to co-create an even better solution. I believe the role of patient or community advocates in hospitals are here to stay.

Stop treating people like numbers – Many large organizations, not necessarily in healthcare, tend to look at their customers as a number on a spreadsheet. When this happens, it becomes too easy to treat problems like we do collateral damage. Numbers should be used to track improvements, not as a means to accept failure when your percentages are low enough.

Be Human – understand that people have deep seated needs and motivations (often not expressed or made visible) that need to be satisfied. Most importantly recognize that this is going to conflict with how you do your job, especially if you are in healthcare.

The key to all of this is about understanding and managing your stakeholder’s expectations. Many things that we do, especially when they are systemic, are now expected as a standard deliverable by our customers. Especially if we have good competitors that do their job well. This means we need to classify services, productivity, efficiency, infection control etc. as “hygiene” factors. Something that we need to get right from the start, if not we are just wasting our time doing what we do.

Not an easy task, but at least we know that the design thinking mindset will help you manage this and even alert you when these expectations shift.

12 Thoughts on Implementing Design Thinking in Your Organization

Design Articles
Apr 04, 2015

A few simple observations on how you can implement Design Thinking in your or any organization large or tiny. These observations have been validated time and time again during my continual involvement with this activity.

1) The acceptance of Design Thinking is a lot easier when there is a real problem to be solved. If there isn’t one, it helps to talk about Design Thinking in the context of one.

2) Biggest roadblock to Design Thinking: organizations seeing it as a nice to have rather than a must-have.

3) Many of the articles I’ve read about DT misses this point: It is not only about the “who” or the “how”, but also about the “why” and “so what?”

4) Design Thinking lives in the future; hence it is hard to convince the minds that live in the present.

5) Design Thinking is really about applying design strategically across many disciplines and functions. This perspective helps designers be more comfortable with the concept.

6) Not everyone can be a design thinker. The stories I could tell you about trying to convert the unconvinced. Therefore, it is a huge myth when someone tells you that anyone can be a Design Thinker. Well, let me qualify that, anyone can be a Design Thinker if they allowed themselves to, most people can’t move past that. So therefore not everyone can be a Design Thinker.

7) I’ve found that Design Thinking sometimes struggles with credibility when non-designers facilitate the activity. The reverse is also true, in that not all designers are Design Thinkers or able to facilitate Design Thinking activities.

8) Most organizations don’t get innovation. They think it is this shiny new thing that can be sold for a premium. The trick is that most people forget that it is really a positioning play. To be positioned so far ahead that the competition has a hard time catching up. Design and design strategy (or thinking) can help you here.

9) Implementing Design Thinking requires a change in mindset. Most businesses, especially those taller that the Pyramids of Gaza, struggle with change. That’s a fact. So when Design Thinking does not work take a look at the talent or the organization’s culture instead.

10) Design Thinking also needs to stop being fluffy and start being results-oriented. Wait, I think we can phrase it better. Design Thinking needs to stop focusing on the process but on the outcome. Yep, make sure there is always one.

11) There is never a 100% success guarantee with the solutions generated by Design or Design Thinking (don’t forget to learn and iterate quickly!). But that does not mean you do not identify your ideal outcomes or define your KPIs (the horror!). Just make sure it is not always about making more money.

12) Finally, Design Thinking is a very uncomfortable activity, process, approach, mindset etc. (pick one?) for many people. After working with a number of clients and also with participants from many Design Thinking workshops, we have found people lost, uncomfortable and sometimes even angry. We should spare a thought for how they feel when we are working with them. Wait; is that not Design Thinking as well?

So what do you guys think? I would love to hear your experiences and stories of how you have helped or led the implementation of Design Thinking in your or any organization. Please do leave your feedback and comments below, thank you!

If you have not already check out this other series of articles on Implementing Design Thinking. (I was experimenting if I should write many small articles or one longer one like this. In the end I just did both!)

Is Good Design Making us Stupid?

Design Articles
May 27, 2014

Jeremy Keith writes:

Convenience. Ease of use. Seamlessness.

On the face of it, these all seem like desirable traits in digital and physical products alike. But they come at a price. When we design, we try to do the work so that the user doesn’t have to. We do the thinking so the user doesn’t have to. Don’t make the user think. But taken too far, that mindset becomes dangerous.

Marshall McLuhan said that every extension is also an amputution. As we augment the abilities of people to accomplish their tasks, we should be careful not to needlessly curtail what they can do:

Here we are, a society hell bent on extending our reach through phones, through computers, through “seamless integration” and yet all along the way we’re unwittingly losing perhaps as much as we gain. The mediums we create are built to carry out specific tasks efficiently, but by doing so they have a tendency to restrict our options for accomplishing that task by other means. We begin to learn the “One” way to do it, when in fact there are infinite ways. The medium begins to restrict our thinking, our imagination, our potential.

The idea of “seamlessness” as a desirable trait in what we design is one that bothers me. Technology has seams. By hiding those seams, we may think we are helping the end user, but we are also making a conscience choice to deceive them (or at least restrict what they can do).

Hmm…food for thought, but perhaps along the same line of reasoning as “Is Google making us stupid?”

I do see Jeremy’s point, but if we treat technology as tool that helps the user achieve his goals, “seamlessness” just becomes the grease that makes achieving that goal a whole lot quicker.

Via: Adactio

Get your Elevator Pitch right for your Design Strategy to Work

Design Articles
Aug 28, 2013

In a rare interview with Fastcompany, CEO Dietrich Mateschitz shares his thoughts about what Red Bull is all about.

What Red Bull stands for is that it “gives you wings…,” which means that it provides skills, abilities, power etc. to achieve whatever you want to. It is an invitation as well as a request to be active, performance-oriented, alert, and to take challenges. When you work or study, do your very best. When you do sports, go for your limits. When you have fun or just relax, be aware of it and appreciate it.

“Gives you Wings…” has to be one of the best Elevator Pitch I’ve seen. It is finely crafted, well thought out, concise, and meaningful.

Just like Red Bull, elevator pitches are something many companies should also take a moment to get right. This is because elevator pitches (or some say brand taglines) are a great way to communicate your purpose or what you are all about to your customers.

Do you have an elevator pitch? Does it match what you are all about? Do your customers get it? Do your customers really care? A no to any of these questions usually means a lot of soul searching is required.

The urban legend for an elevator pitch was all about a hungry entrepreneur who, in the time it took for an elevator ride from the ground floor to the top floor, had to convince a CEO of a large corporation to invest in him. It’s an urban legend as to date; there has not been any evidence that it was a successful way to raise money. But the romanticism of the idea stuck.

Elevator pitches are usually made up of a few sentences and describes what your idea, company, purpose is all about. Gamestorming (Amazon Link) has a great example on how to construct an Elevator Pitch. Get together with your team and brainstorm the answers to the following questions. Then fill in the pitch sentence at the end.

Going through the exercise involves both a generating and forming phase. To setup the generating phase, write these questions in sequence on flip-charts:

Who is the target customer?
What is the customer need?
What is the product name?
What is its market category?
What is its key benefit?
Who or what is the competition?
What is the product’s unique differentiator?

These will become the elements of the pitch. They are in a sequence that follows the formula: For (target customer) who has (customer need), (product name) is a (market category) that (one key benefit). Unlike (competition), the product (unique differentiator).

This is a good and fast way to get your elevator pitch together. It’s a great start, but it will take more time to refine it, test and validate it to get it right especially if you want to include your organisation’s purpose in it. Consider your Elevator Pitch a living document that is always in Beta.

Here is Design Sojourn’s elevator pitch, which took me about 50 tries to get right.

We help our clients leverage on Design Led Innovation to make people’s lives better.

The objective of our pitch was to get our clients to understand what we do in a nutshell, and then contact us for more information should the pitch resonated with them. So far it has been working well for us, but we are still looking to improve it.

But why is it important for your design strategy?

I have found that a strong elevator pitch is very powerful in communicating a design strategy or your design principles. While most elevator pitches are used outwards towards your customers as brand taglines, a well-crafted elevator pitch can be used to drive a design strategy internally through multiple departmental levels or business units. The fact that a well-crafted pitch often lacks jargon and is easy to understand, helps many people (especially non-designers or design thinkers) to get it immediately and thus increase the chance for a more consistent execution of an idea.

Why not try creating an elevator pitch in your next design or business strategy workshop, and let me know how it goes?

Via: Medium.

Business Design Toolkit


Our Design Led Innovation client consulting or facilitation sessions often involves a business diagnostic activity, that is split into something I fondly call: hard and soft diagnostics.

A hard diagnostic, aptly called as it covers hard financial numbers, covers things like market share, revenue, profit, margins etc. This is a pretty meaty and tangible discussion, with a lot of great tools such as the Business Model Canvas by Alex Osterwalder or the Lean Canvas by Ash Maurya to support the discussion.

On the other hand, our soft diagnostic activity tends to cover the softer more human elements of a business. This includes things such as values, culture, meaning, customer needs and motivation. Much of this actually falls within the realm of Design Thinking, and as far as I know, there is no tool for this.

So I created one.

Business Design Toolkit
Business Design Thinking
Click on the image for a full size version.

Business Design Toolkit User Guide

The Business Design Tool was inspired by the Startup Canvas created by our friends and partners the Design Thinkers Group. I co-facilitated a workshop on the Startup Canvas at the D.Confestival in Berlin last year, and adapted it from there. Check out the original updated Startup Canvas here. Looks like they liked our addition of the DNA and Persona modifications, and added it to their tool!

The BDT has been tested extensively on corporations both large and small, start-ups, non-profits and even government agencies (where it would be called the Organization Design Toolkit). So now please print it out as a big banner, (2+ meters wide), try it out with your clients or team, and then let me know what you think?

The Business Design Toolkit is one of the many tools we have developed to help businesses leverage on Design Driven Innovation to make their customer’s lives better. If you would like us to help you out, do not hesitate to drop us a message at our contact page.

2 Approaches to Design and 4 Rules of Understanding Humans

Design Articles
Apr 16, 2013

I get this all the time.

Whenever we talk about Design Thinking’s user-centered approach to finding opportunities and understanding your customer better, someone always reminds me that one of the worlds most successful company (in my humble opinion), Apple, does not do market or user research.

Similarly, Scott Anthony writes:

It feels like a classic battle — the scientific approach of a company (Procter & Gamble when run by former CEO A.G. Lafley) that launches 80 market research studies a day versus the intuitive touch of the iconic innovator of our time.

But it’s a false comparison. Both approaches rest on the belief that you need to understand your customers better than they know themselves so you can predict what they want without having to ask them to articulate what they want.

Here is my usual answer to this: basically, what we are saying here is that there are 2 approaches to design.

The first one takes a user-centered approach to design. This is where Design Thinkers or Designers spend time in the field observing and researching humans for potential insights that can inspire and innovate. This sort of approach is ideal for organizations with large diverse portfolios and multiple types of customers. It is also a great activity to use on mature market services and products.

The second approach is what I like to call the customer proxy design approach. This is when there is someone who lives and breathes the product or service in such a totality that it becomes a lifestyle. He or she is then able to take it to the next level in an almost craft like manner all for the good of the consumer. This sort of approach lands really well for businesses developing a focused product range, or even a small niche player in a competitive market.

At the end of the day, it is all about that intuition or insights derived from knowing your customers better then they know themselves. But how you come up with these insight can be from either one of the two approaches. Personally, I prefer a combination of the two approaches simply because of my 4 golden rules of understanding humans:

1) People don’t know, what they don’t know. (To get it right, you’ll need to repeat this a few times while pausing deliberately at the comma!)

2) People don’t do what they say, or say what they do.

3) People know what they dislike, but often can’t articulate what they like.

4) People often can’t distinguish between their wants from needs, as well as why they need it in the first place.

So my 2 by 4 (2×4) approach to design led innovation basically revolves around using thought leadership and intuition for insights, and then iterating and validating with data.

What’s your approach?

Via: HBR

Anthropology of Television

The following guest post is written by Maurice McGinley, a friend and former colleague at Philips Design. While some of the points might be a little outdated, this post showcases a methodology of Design Research and Design Led Innovation that is practiced in companies who aspire to be design leaders in their industry. I hope you enjoy the treat and also the process! Also don’t forget to click on the images for a larger view.


Television’s Secret Sauce

AppleTV, Google TV, Netflix, Ikea Uppleva… So why isn’t TV disrupted already? Where is TV going?

Longer term trends in human behavior can show us where TV is headed. Technology shapes Culture but Culture determines which technologies thrive; and culture changes more slowly than technology. An earlier post looked at television’s job to be done. This post looks at the Anthropology of Television.

The history of television use can be described in terms of four dimensions. These dimensions define the value space of television and we predict they will continue to drive its future evolution:

Availability of Content,
Convenience of Control,
– Sensorial Immersion, and
Social Engagement.


…anything, anytime


The availability of content in terms of:
– Extent (What)
– Location (Where)
– Time (When)
– Cost (How Much)

– Limitless choice
– Always accessible
– Immediate gratification
– All media
– Low cost

– Rental / Subscription access
– Time and place shifting
– Granularity of content
– Move to online digital media storage
– Apps provide new narrow yet deep access to specialized content.
– User generated content gets integrated with commercial content.


…as easy as breathing


– The ease of getting the right content for any situation.

– A satisfying sense of control
– No thought needed
– Navigation by recognition (not planned intention or forethought)
– Automatic, flexible content management

– Curated choices and recommendations.
– Metadata enables content discovery
– Control from 2nd Screen.
– Integrated ecosystems of products


… sweeps me away


– The extent, degree, and quality of sensory stimulation

– Sensual escapism
– Enjoyment and beauty
– Authentic and credible content rendering
– Fluid and natural control

– Increasing visual and motion quality rendering.
– More senses, more fully stimulated
– Psychology-based compression and reproduction technologies
– Integration of navigation controls with content
– Apps providing synchronised extensions to content on screen.


…how I express myself; how I find myself


– The social and cultural aspects of our relationship to media; shared viewing enhances the experience.

– Social currency – know what my peers are talking about.
– Discover content “gems” that suit me personally.
– Expression of my identity through my choices
– Pleasure and reassurance of being part of a group

– Strong links to pop culture and fashion
– Social curation
– Check-ins
– Playlist sharing
– Real-time sharing
– Tagging
– Live!

Hit this link for a A3 High Resolution .pdf suitable for printing.

Maurice McGinley works at AVG as a User Experience Architect. You can follow him on Google+, on Linkedin or on his awesome UX/UI research blog: “How I got my Kink“. This post has been reproduced with permission. Credit for the project goes to Philips Design.

This is NOT the End of Apple

Design Articles
Nov 15, 2012

rotting study 2

Since the recent keynote by Tim Cook (October 2012), there has been a media furor on how it is going to be the end of Apple, or that Apple after Jobs is dead.

I’m going to risk sounding like a Fanboy and say that this just nonsense and really a “heard” mentality going viral. What is more likely is that people and blogs are jumping on the media bandwagon for more eyeballs or mouse clicks. One prominent reviewer of the iPhone 5 even retracted his initial bored dislike and proclaimed the iPhone 5: “the best phone to ever grace the earth“. Which makes me wonder how can people review a product without even using it first? (Hence we rarely do product reviews here at Design Sojourn.)

My analysis of the iPhone 5 keynote and recent (iPad Mini, 13” Retina etc) product launch, signals that we are far from the “end of days” at Apple under Tim Cook. For sure there has been some management revamps to be sorted out, but I for one am bullish on Apple’s future.

Here is why.

We have a warped sense of how we define an “Innovative” product.

Here is basically how some of the most influential people online define Innovation.

Dan Crow at the Guardian UK said: “It [Apple] hasn’t introduced a truly new product since the launch of the iPad nearly three years ago; instead it’s making incremental and overhyped improvements to its current lines.”

Since when has Apple made anything “new”? The iPod was inspired by Creative’s Zen Mp3 Player, the iPhone was a mobile phone with a redesigned Xerox Parc’s touch screen interface, and the iPad is a tablet PC (ah la Fujitsu) with optimized hardware.

Furthermore, Apple has never been in the business of selling to early adopters. Apple sells to the early majority and the rest of the groups of consumers as described in the theory of Diffusion of Innovation.

Therefore Apple’s brand of Innovation is in taking matured technology, redesigning them, and packaging them into a proposition that consumers find easy and a joy to use. Packaging the technology so that people get it. This is also the reason why Apple products don’t compete on specifications, not do they contain the fastest CPU or biggest and brightest screen.

Technically, Apple has never been the leader in any form of technology nor products. There is nothing in their product line up you cannot fine an earlier alternative. But they have managed to find the right time to come in and spectacularly take over the market. For example how the iPod, the iPhone and iPad took over the world.

Apple is in the business of Incremental Products.

One of the big gripes of the new Apple line up was the surprise launch of the iPad 4 seven months after the launch of the iPad 3. The iPad 3 was Apple’s biggest selling iPad with 3 Million sold. This resulted in many people saying that Apple just officially pissed off 3 Million of their customers with the iPad 4.

I disagree. We have touched on this before in my previous post. Apple has to keep updating their products to keep up with the technology “Joneses”, but to their credit, they do not obsolete their old products by building an ecosystem where OS updates will work on both new and older devices.

Try updating your Samsung Galaxy S2 to Android’s new Jellybean? The Galaxy S2, at the time this article was published, has no official way of updating the software to the latest and greatest.

However what is really significant about this seven month product upgrade cycle, is that Apple can now beat the fast-followers and OEMs of this world at their own game. This, in my humble opinion, is a huge breakthrough that many pundits have missed. Especially when Apple does not technically own their factory and outsources all their manufacturing.

Think about it for a moment?

A fast follower strategy basically takes a winning product, makes the specifications 10-20% better or cheaper, and then gets it out very quick (on an average of 6-8 months). With this speed up in Apple’s development cycle, when a fast follower gets a product out, they are already obsolete as Apple not only has a the next one out, but a new model that is likely 100% better then their predecessor. (Apple claims that the iPad 4 is 2x faster than the iPad 3).

This heralds exciting times for Apple (thanks to supply chain maestro Tim Cook) and that we should expect more frequent product updates going forward, at least twice a year.

iPhone 5 and iPad Mini: It’s the iMac and MacBook all over Again.

Before we wrap up lets do a quick analysis of the two most significant Apple products of this year.

I don’t really expect any major innovation for the iPhone or the iPad range to come. Apple may be guilty of new product marketing overhype, but Apple’s innovations really only come at the start of the range, after that it is all incremental improvements (some larger, some smaller) through the years. If you look at how the iMac and the MacBooks have evolved, you can see what has happen with those ranges will eventually happen to the iPhone and iPad.

Click to zoom.

Step 1: Create an archetype changing or defining product.
Step 2: Improve it with technology and manufacturing processes.
Step 3: Milk the product for as long as possible.

It is also worthwhile to note that Apple runs on a Castle and Moat strategy.

Therefore the iPad mini is also a purely defensive play. Apple has obviously realized that they might have missed the ebook market, as the iPad’s size and weight is not the best for long term reading. With Amazon’s Kindle ecosystem doing very well, they needed to ensure that they have something in their range to keep their customers from leaving.

So what’s next?

Tim Cook at the recent D10 Conference interview shared a little about how Apple develops new products. The information may seem scarce, but if you are in the industry it says a lot. He said:

1) Can we control the key technology?

2) Can we make a significant contribution far beyond what others have done in this area?

3) Can we make a product that we all want? (Cos we think we are reasonably good proxies for others.)

So if we consider these three points, and the analysis above on Apple’s brand of innovation, we can conclude two things:

1) Apple will not launch anything new if they do not think the timing is right or if it is not right for their customers.

2) To find out what’s next, all we have to do is look at technologies out there that are important but under-performing, and under-humanized.

So with this, my bets are on voice control (which Siri has not done as well) and Apple TV or a new TiVo type system.

As you can see, Apple isn’t doing anything different today than what they did in the past. If they are guilty of anything, it could be marketing overhype or launching too many new products this year.

Regardless, the road going forward is not going to be easy as Apple’s competitors are doing things a lot better. Fortunately, Apple has proven consistent in what they do and that proven recipe is going to help fight off the competition. They will still make mistakes and we, of course, will forgive them. And Apple employees that do not fit well, including Steve Jobs, leave and some do come back again.

I love to hear your thoughts on this analysis, so please do not hesitate to leave a comment below. Thanks!

Apple vs. Samsung: A sign that the Dynamics of the Consumer Electronics Industry is Changing

Design Articles
Sep 14, 2012

I was not going to blog about the big Apple vs. Samsung IP battle, as in my view IP and patent battles are only for organizations with deep pockets and that the money used to pay the lawyers should be better spent on the next big thing.

However, one evening at a recent screening of the Design & Thinking Movie we organized for our close friends, an old ally asked what I thought about Apple’s win.

I replied that it was a big win for innovation. Immediately, I wondered where that comment came from?

You see, in the consumer electronics industry there is one company everyone loves to hate. So much so that in any business or product strategy formulated, there is always a defensive plan on “what Samsung would do” and to prepare for it in a big way.

Companies constantly looked over their shoulders and hoped that the Samsung “Fast Follower” juggernaut would not be lurking too close by. A “Fast Follower” design strategy means that Samsung would pick the winners, then follow their winning x-factor but make it just a little better through product spec and design. Did I mention that they also often made it cheaper?

It is by being cheaper that’s where many of the contrarian views of Apple’s win come from.

Enrique Gutierrez, chief technology officer of Digithrive, observed anecdotally that customers at Starbucks complained that they have overpaid for an Apple product, when they can get the “same” product by Samsung at a cheaper price.

This has always been the intended outcome of Samsung’s Fast Follower strategy.

Former Microsoft employee and tech blogger, Robert Scoble writes: “I think this is actually a sizable win for Samsung. Why? It only cost $1 billion to become the #2 most profitable mobile company.

Robert implies that through “following” Apple, Samsung has acquired market share cheaply and with little risk. Really, you can’t help but grudgingly respect what Samsung is all about.

Personally, I disagree with Enrique’s observation. I have separately observed or was told by many Samsung converts who were tempted by the larger screens, thinner bodies, cheaper prices etc. and then complain how unsatisfying the Samsung experience is. Worst still many of them could not get used the system and can’t wait for the next iPhone. (Which has just come out!)

This “same but better” is only a knee-jerk reaction and is likely temporary. When people know a better way, it’s hard to go back. And this is where a “fast follower” design strategy has its biggest Achilles’ heel. Trying to be better than the best does not always work, especially when it is not very clear what makes the company the best.

Anyways, (going back to the patent battle) while I still believe the money is better spent on R&D, the times are changing. It is getting harder to stay ahead, and you can see the strain on Apple when Tim Cook mentioned in the recent AllThingsD interview “…it is important [that] Apple not be the developer for the world. We just want other people to invent their own stuff.” I agree with his last point. There are many smart people at Samsung, and some of their designs are pretty good. But one can sometimes wonder why they don’t create their own radical breakthrough innovations? I’m sure they can well afford it.

Apple is one of the few companies who have successfully outsourced almost all their products and components, and still manage to stay ahead of their competitors. If you consider the amount of Samsung components that go into Apple products, and that many enterprising employees of manufacturing companies in China are leaking Apple parts for money, it is truly very tough to keep customers surprised and stay ahead of the competition. When was the last time you were truly surprised with a new Apple product offering?

Just to elaborate on my previous point a little more, sources close to me have indicated that many 3rd party iPhone cover manufacturers have long confirmed the iPhone 5’s dimensions and have been spewing out tons of cases in the months leading up to the launch of the iPhone 5.

So what will happen next? I’m honestly not too sure and would love to hear your thoughts. Whatever it is, the consumer electronics world is so tightly integrated these days that it will be interesting to see how things pan out in the coming months.

Photo Via: Mashable.

7 Things Small Businesses can Learn from the Sparrow Sellout

People loved Sparrow, a clean and simple Gmail client for the Mac and iOS. But nobody knew by how much until they sold-out. The internet was just a buzz with unhappy people, myself included. Even their own investors were unhappy.

We won’t go into a debate on whether you are or not an entrepreneur if you’re looking for an exit strategy by selling to the highest bidder. But when Sparrow sent an email to me two weeks ago announcing they were acqui/hired (for a rumored amount of $25 Million) by Google, I realized that this is an excellent case study of what to do (or not to do) if you are running a small business looking to create an innovative solution for your customers.

1) Focused product
Sparrow is a simple and outstanding email client for Gmail. It is also one of my favorite Mac Apps, and possibly my most frequently used. What’s great about this App is that it focuses on one thing, email. And the App performed exceedingly well. I’m glad that the developers did not include other so-called “value-add” features such as reading RSS feeds or creating multiple folders etc.

Small business owners would soon discover that if they can maintain a strong focus in their business, products and service solutions, they can be very successful. Focus allows for clarity, and clarity is important for doing something well.

2) A product that fulfilled a need
Before Sparrow came along, we struggled with other email clients. Now that we know better, we demand better. The old saying is true, people don’t know what they don’t know. Sparrow succeeded in making other email clients look and “feel ancient“.

Customers don’t care about you, or your business, or your product range. They care about how you can solve their problems. If your solution is not solving a need, it is not likely going to make a long lasting impact in anyone’s lives. People talk a lot about branding and brand loyalty, but many forget the brand has to be useful first and cool bananas second.

3) It was not perfect, but they kept on improving it.
When Sparrow first was launched is sucked. It was so buggy I occasionally went back to Gmail because the App would not work right. But the team kept on improving it, so much so I was looking forward to the updates. Sometimes Sparrow team members were so excited that they “…would spill the beans about a new app feature on Twitter or Tumblr because they were so excited about it.

I’ve seen, all too often, small businesses getting what I call “launch burn-out”. They spent so much time and energy on getting a product or service to market that once it goes out they either go on to something else or retire (or sleep!). Product or service launches should be seen as a marathon starting line, and not the finishing line. The real work begins when it launches.

4) Kept close to their customers

The sparrow team was very close to their customers, they listen to feedback (they did mine!), they got people to pick their next logo, and the even got their most loyal and fanatical customers to beta test their upgrades.

Small businesses have no reason not to get close to their customers, especially with today’s Social Media applications and Internet technology. I’m still surprised to see so many small businesses hiding behind distributors or retailers and not taking steps to better engage their customers. If you don’t do so, how can you understand what your ultimate end user needs or wants? And if you don’t know what, how can you make the right business decisions or improve your offering?

5) Don’t be Evil. Ok?
All things considered, Sparrow had a lot going for them. They were making hundreds of thousands of dollars, and their customers loved them.

Unfortunately since the sellout, their customers are now just angry for being left on the lurch. More so when many, including myself, found out that the developers were flogging the iOS versions for $0.99 (RRP $2.99) and the Mac version for $4.99. They did this from 19th June to the 13th of July. 7 days before the 20th July announcement of the Google purchase, and also that they will not be supporting the product (except critical bugs) in the near future.

Many people could not help wonder if they were taken for a ride, and all that goodwill they built up was destroyed. Small business need to realize goodwill is tough to build, but can by destroyed in one felled swoop.

6) Are you an entrepreneur or a business man?
I know we said we would not debate this, and we won’t. However small business need to decide if they are building something for the long term, or are they looking to get rich quick and get out. Great products and services need time to build and gestate.

Because of the nature and complexity of Design Thinking and Design Driven Innovation activities, it is naturally a long-term investment and commitment. So really, only the small businesses that are looking to build something awesome for their customer need apply.

7) People believe in why you do what you do.
The real reason why people are upset was that many believed in what the Sparrow Developers, Dom Leca and Dinh Viet Hoa, believed in. They wanted to create best possible email app they could and turned it into something they would want to use.

Because of this, I would add “betrayed” to the list of emotions many people are feeling. If you don’t believe me, read the comments in all the articles I’ve linked to above.

Humans are strange creatures. When people are emotionally attached to something, it becomes hard to give up. Just look at Apple. Small businesses that want to beat the big organizations (that people feel nothing for) should consider this: Share with your customers why you get out of bed each morning to do what you do. The customers you want will walk the journey with you.