July 12, 2013
These are extraordinary times.
Of course, I’m not the first person to say these words. That’s how JFK kicked off his man on the moon speech in May 1961. He also said (slightly paraphrased), “We choose to go to the moon in this decade — not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” It’s an inspirational line, but come on. The real reason that JFK decided to put a man on the moon wasn’t because it was difficult. It was because just one month earlier, Yuri Gagarin — a Soviet! — had become the first man to go into space. Putting a man on the moon wasn’t just some lofty scientific experiment. It was a battle between democracy and communism. It was a mission to win the hearts and minds of Americans and of people all over the world.
To achieve this mission, NASA needed to innovate.
One of the most critical things it needed to develop was a spacesuit that would keep the astronauts alive on the lunar surface — and for many years, NASA thought it was going to get its innovation from science fiction. The organization, for example, built many spacesuits with hard exoskeletons that made the astronauts look like manly, rugged bad asses.
But the real space suit innovation didn’t come from science fiction. It came from women’s underwear.
One company, Playtex, was thinking about the spacesuit opportunity differently. Playtex executives saw how they could combine the latex in their girdles with the nylon tricot from their bras to create a protective layer that could hold up to harsh demands of space.
And so, it wasn’t NASA engineers who assembled the Apollo spacesuits. It was seamstresses. Incredibly skilled seamstresses, I might add, who drew upon their knowledge of garment making and the human body — and then sewed with an accuracy tolerance that was less than a sixty-fourth of an inch. Their hand-crafted spacesuit was one of the key innovations that enabled NASA to get a man on the moon, and the US to win the space race.
If you’re reading this post, you’re most likely in a race of your own: the customer experience race. In a recent Forrester survey of 100 customer experience professionals, nearly half of respondents said that their executive team’s strategy for customer experience is market differentiation. And an ambitious 13% said that they’ll settle for nothing less than having the best customer experience across every industry.
To achieve this mission, companies need to innovate.
Unfortunately, many get caught up in the bright shiny objects afforded by the latest technology — today’s equivalent of basing spacesuit designs in science fiction. And while technology is certainly an effective enabler of great customer experiences, it often distracts executives from leveraging key corporate assets — like the business model and brand — in innovation efforts.
To learn more about customer experience innovation done right, check out this short video from my keynote at Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum in NYC. (You’ll find more conference video highlights on YouTube!)