Where new products come from

Do you ever wonder where new products come from? Who gets the ideas and then how do the products make their way into common usage? It really is quite a process to get new products into users’ hands. There are many people that have to play their roles along the way.

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A new idea

There’s no telling where an idea will come from. It could be random or it could be programmed. It could be fortuitous or the result of hard work. Sometimes it is completely serendipitous, and sometimes it’s right there in front of a person’s nose.

The SMART Board interactive whiteboard was my husband’s (David Martin) idea. We had been presented with the opportunity of purchasing an LCD R&D facility in Tempe, Arizona, that had been created back in 1986. It was in the course of thinking about what we could do with LCDs that Dave thought about the entire system that encompasses the SMART Board interactive whiteboard.

In Dave’s case, the idea really came from the reading that he does. Although I would hesitate to describe him as a computer scientist, he certainly knows where technology is headed and is therefore able to expect and anticipate certain things.

Dave takes his knowledge about new technologies and puts them together with what he observes people do in the course of their daily interactions. All the time he is considering how technology can solve their problems. His mode of creation and invention is an easy process.

Getting to market

Many great products have died because there was no way to get them to market. Technology by itself means nothing. It only has meaning and value when people use it.

There is a type of company that brings new products to market. While these companies would typically not shout at the market and say, “Hey, we’re helping the diffusion of innovative products,” that’s exactly what they do.

Introducing new products takes time and energy. It involves not just demonstrations but also making sense of a new product to people who sometimes don’t know that they have a problem that needs to be solved.

If you observe them, they have a different mode of working than a company that sells an established product. They do trade shows, host seminars, hold training events for their customers and bring the products to their prospects to show them. They tell them how the products are used in other countries and organizations. They also let people try out the products.

Our dealers and distributors globally are exactly that type of company. Not only did they introduce new products like projectors and copyboards to organizations in their areas, in many cases they introduced interactive whiteboards as well. And in the process they did all of the promotional activities to get people aware of the products.

Passionate early adopters

New products don’t go anywhere without a passionate group of early adopters. These users love a product with all of its inadequacies. They feed the innovating company – sometimes literally – as it struggles to come into existence or get the product off the ground.

These customers teach a company a lot about its new products and what users want. They’re a relatively small group, but their enthusiasm can go a long way to excite and influence the much larger target group of prospects.

The passionate early users for SMART Board interactive whiteboards were primary and secondary teachers, military people and corporate users who wanted to collaborate with colleagues at a distance.

The storytellers

A new product can’t be successful without people who write about how early adopters are using it. The press spreads the word about new products, because they are in constant need of a new angle on life or business. It’s a symbiotic relationship, one that has worked well for years.

Hundreds of stories appear in the press each week about SMART Board interactive whiteboards and the impact that they have on everyday aspects of education and business. The fact that they exist and are moving into wider acceptance has to be credited to many people.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.