January is now well past and so too is an annual event. The CES (Consumer Electronics Show), one of the hottest tickets in town if you are involved in marketing or product development across so many sectors, takes place every year in Las Vegas. The desert sparkles with ideas as for 3 days nearly 200,000 thousand people from over 160 countries will be sprinkled with the fairy dust of new tech possibilities.
Image Alex Knight Unsplash
It’s been going for fifty years and many of today’s staples in the huge $400bn consumer goods market first saw the light of day there – from the early video recorders and CD/DVDs, through to the games engines like Xbox and PlayStation and to today’s mainstream products like OLED TVs or 3D printing technologies.
This year’s ‘wow’ exhibits included tennis playing robots, foldable PCs, phones you can roll up and put in your pocket, TV screens which spread out like fabric across your wall. Smart vehicles being demonstrated not only by the usual suspects but now by players not normally associated with Big Auto – Sony with its huge range of sensors, Yandex (the Russian equivalent of Google) strutting its digital stuff in the form of a modified Prius which , they claim, has already driven over 1.5 million miles on the road without a driver behind the wheel. Of course you could forget wheels and the ground, how about Hyundai/Uber’s flying taxi concept? Straight out of the pages of a 1950s science fiction magazine, but now a serious contender for a transportation licence. Wearables of every shape and size, smart home equipment which includes intelligent everything (how about the bathrooms complete with Alexa-enabled smart toilet?)….
The list goes on – and from an innovation point of view this is a bath in pure 100% proof technology push – a glimpse of all the things that might be.
Except that we know that half the stuff won’t appear and the other half will take much longer and change shape many times before it comes into our hands and everyday use. Just like the catwalk where the most exotic confections emerge from behind the drapes, so innovation is a fashion thing. Radical new ideas, bubbling out, spilling into our laps while the commentators rake notes. Risky, surprising, exciting, colourful – but not quite the real world. Yet.
A big part of why there’s a gap has to do with an obvious point about innovation. It’s about needs as well as means and the pull side has to be there. The best thing since sliced bread may not actually be perceived as such – as inventor Otto Rohwedder found to his cost, having to give away half of his company before he could find an investor smart enough to see the possibilities. Even then his initial target market – bakers – were distinctly unimpressed. It wasn’t until the local housewives got a taste of his innovation that it really took off. (He got it right in the end; within five years of his launch over 80% of US bakeries had bread slicing machinery and it dominated the market).
As any budding entrepreneur filling in their business model canvas will tell you, we need to think about the market and work on what our target segment will value. And that may take a lot of testing and pivoting around our original value proposition to shape and configure it to the point where its going to diffuse to scale.