“Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” This is one of the most quoted innovation credos. Yet it’s also untrue.
Innovation experts call this the “Better Mousetrap Fallacy”, because the credo focuses solely on the technology and not on the consumer. Consumers really don’t care about a better mousetrap. They care about fewer mice.
Or as HBS marketing professor Ted Levitt put it, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.”
My friend Todd Sattersten addresses this issue in his new book called “Every Book Is a Startup“. It’s an inspiring book, not only on the future of book publishing, but really any type of innovation. Todd writes about the often overlooked role of “Felt Need” in innovation, as originated by publisher Ray Bard. It’s not enough for the innovation to represent a technological advance. It has to to tap a “Felt Need” by the consumer.
Todd and Ray characterize “Felt Need” in four different categories based on the depth of “Felt Need” and the breadth of the audience: the Pond, the Bayou, the Well, and the Ocean. Many businesses launch new innovations for the Bayou, a mile wide and only 18 inches deep. Those innovations have low “Felt Need”. It doesn’t matter how technologically advanced they are. The real opportunities lie in Wells and Oceans.
Dyson is a master of “Felt Need”. On the surface, it may appear that Dyson excels at building better mousetraps (with innovation breakthroughs in vacuum cleaners, hand dryers, and, most recently, fans). Yet, it wasn’t the technological advances alone that made their success possible. Dyson tapped a “Felt Need”. I remember when the Dyson vacuum first came out, my wife started a Dyson fund, putting $20 a week in an envelope until she had enough to buy one. She acutely felt the need for a Dyson based on her dissatisfaction with previous options.
Delivering against “Felt Need”, not merely building a better mousetrap, is what drives the world to beat a path to your door.