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VOL. 129 | NO. 126 | Monday, June 30, 2014
Graber Atkinson

Michael Graber & Jocelyn Atkinson

Business Becomes Human

By MICHAEL GRABER & JOCELYN ATKINSON

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After sifting through 20-plus in-depth consumer narratives of their condition, an R&D scientist said to me, “We need to always begin new product development projects this way.”

These people went into great details about their lives, their struggles, their rituals, their beliefs. As we unpacked their learnings, the scientist understood the complexities of having a rich, full contextual understanding of the people for whom he will design new, innovative solutions.

To summarize with a metaphor, he walks in their high heels, sneakers and Crocs, embodying their situation as if it were his life own.

Instead of creating another barely distinguishable product from the sea of sameness that surfeits the shelves of food, drug and mass stores off of a job brief that solves a marketing line problem, this scientist can now collaborate on a new approach to these problems with a deep understanding of the situation.

The insight at hand is that we are not solving business problems here. We are solving human problems. In this era when landfills and the seas are gutted with enough plastic to choke the planet, do we really need another product for the sake of making money solely? Wouldn’t it be better if we create things people need and use and that help people? Please do not tell me that this is idealistic.

This is the business-world paradigm shift of our era. Forget business-to-business. Forget business-to-consumer. That is outdated thinking.

We are crafting solutions for real people. Instead of creating a “me too” product for an ambiguous market segment, real innovations seek to connect with fate and fabric of their user’s lives. This is human-to-human business and smart product design, part caused-based and part entrepreneurial horse sense, but it makes business good and it also, no surprise, makes good business.

Following this human-centered process – “design thinking” – begins with empathy with real people. Later, product ideas are co-created with real people. This hand-on-the-pulse method creates new, breakthrough products and services that make a positive difference in the lives of many.

As the scientist says, “We need to always begin new product development projects this way.” Welcome to the new era.

Jocelyn Atkinson and Michael Graber run the Southern Growth Studio, a strategic growth firm based in Memphis. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.

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