Because of such connections, variations on a story that may present a different perspective on it are exciting and surprising. Seeing how the story plays out piques our curiosity. We crave new insights into the familiar. The more grounded we are in a story, the more we can explore its nuances in a second, third, or even a hundredth read. Expanding upon something that we know so well makes us feel good about ourselves—makes us feel smart. Since we grow and change over time, our new experiences since the last time we read a story can give us new insights into it on a reread. New interpretations can provide exciting, new innovations in the telling of a story.
Similarly, innovation in product development may similarly be nothing more than recycling and rehashing what already exists. Innovation can occur when we go back and revisit something we’ve known well for a long time, looking for new insights. It’s just a matter of finding a connection that already exists and employing it in a new way. Not every innovation has to be as exciting as the next iPhone. You can succeed in innovating even in the realm of the most mundane of things—for instance, home technology.
Innovation for Products That Don’t Usually Inspire Love
The people at Nest have figured out how to innovate and are quickly becoming the Apple of home technology. Granted, they have had some help. Their CEO, Tony Fadell, has a track record of bringing us must-have items like the iPod. Still, I was a little torn when I heard that Nest has a new product: a smoke/carbon monoxide detector. Nest has so successfully innovated on the thermostat that I wondered whether they could pull it off again with the same level of excellence. Lo and behold, it appears they have!
I believe the basis for Nest’s success lies in these facts:
- Nest is determined to engage with its customers by appealing to their emotional connection to their basic need for comfort and safety in their homes. This is their overall mission as a company. They have a clear vision.
- They can reimagine existing technology in people’s homes—the place where this emotional engagement takes place—showing their true comprehension of that context.
- They take their ideas to the next level by adding logical features that extend and build on the emotional connection that already exists—while making their products look cool.
Let’s look at these concepts in a bit more detail. First, Nest chose well in developing a smoke detector as its second product. They are continuing their tradition of taking everyday devices that have a small functional scope, but a big impact in people’s homes, and transforming what it means for those devices to do their job well. As Fadell says in an article about the new smoke detector, he wants to bring magic to products that are unloved and often overlooked. Sticking to this agenda has built Nest’s credibility. Customers trust that their new product will be as exceptional as their first without even knowing much about it. There is a lesson we can learn here: Focus on what you do—and do it well.
But exactly how can a smoke detector engage us emotionally? How might we come to love it? This is especially challenging because this is not a device that we think about on an everyday basis. We may realize that it’s in our home only subconsciously, but knowing it is there provides a sense of comfort and security that every human being needs. If a smoke detector has ever alerted you to a true emergency, you know what I mean. The device’s value is immeasurable in that moment—even if that is the only time you’ll ever need it. It can be a lifesaver, and its presence gives us peace of mind—plain and simple.
Sadly, though, we all know that smoke detectors can be a big hassle when they’re not saving our lives. If you told me you’ve never pulled the batteries out of a beeping device in frustration, I wouldn’t believe you. And it’s that frustration that detracts from our having a positive experience that engages us in the way the manufacturer of a smoke detector intends. For much of its existence, the smoke detector has been a nuisance more than a lifesaver—up until now.
Nest has conquered the deficiencies of smoke detectors with their brilliant take on a device that had remained unchanged for decades. Turning your smoke detector off is no longer a hassle. Instead of requiring you to climb on a chair and hit tiny buttons with a broom handle, turning off the device is now as easy as a hand wave. There’s no more wondering whether the battery is still good or having your night’s sleep disrupted by incessant beeping. A clear visual cue gives you pertinent status information. There are no incomprehensible noises when something sets the detector off. The device actually talks to you, providing a clear reason for its being triggered. It is much easier to love something when you aren’t in a constant battle with it.
But Nest didn’t stop there. Now, multiple smoke detectors in a home can talk to each other and warn us of issues arising in other areas of our home. This functionality deepens our connection with the device, and our dependency on this device is critical to our safety and well-being. We all know seconds can mean the difference between life and death in an emergency. This feature makes so much sense that it makes you wonder why no one has ever done this before.
Another thing that Nest has done to make the smoke detector a more integral part of the home is to turn it into a night light when it’s not functioning as a detector. Not only did they get the context in which such devices exist right, they understood that it makes logical sense that the detector could do double duty in this capacity because of the locations in which they are usually placed. Capitalizing on the device’s ambient functionality, they gave the smoke detector an expanded purpose in our lives that is a good fit with its core story. Plus, ambient user interfaces are just cool.
The concept seems so simple when you look at it in this way, but achieving this kind of innovation takes care and thought—and not every company has the patience and diligence that Nest apparently does. This is what makes Nest a successful innovator.