A while back Time Magazine ran a story on an innovation incubator and showed photographs of some of the “innovations”. The type of thing they were excited about was some new apps for cellphones that recorded daily tasks and calories and a small yellow rubber duck with a motorised unit to speed around your bath. Now, it’s important to encourage new ideas but let’s be honest, some things are simple, practical ideas while others are merely gimmicks and novelties.
Gimmicks remind me of these corporate gifts such as a battery or solar powered torch with different tools including a knife, scissors and a star screwdriver. The problem is that when you take it out for the first time to wander around the dark in your home because of another blackout, the torch packs in for good. It’s not to say that all corporate novelty gifts are rubbish. Someone some time back gave me a small electric-powered torch that you can plug into the wall and charge. The length of time that this torch lasts is amazing and it gives you fairly good light in the on-off blackouts.
Then there are the real, simple, smart products. I’m thinking of a double-insulated metal water bottle which comes in a stylish design and different colours. It avoids the problem of using plastic bottles for water and is great for hiking and other outdoor activities. This water bottle must have something going for it – at last count the woman who came up with the idea had sold four million units. Another simple and useful product is the surf wear line for women that a Swede came up with on a surfing safari in Costa Rica. Her product solves a real problem for women surfers. She found that the women swimwear she used while surfing kept falling off while out there in the surf riding big waves. So, she decided to come up with her own woman’s surf wear line and has done well.
Right here in South Africa innovation-minded people have come up with useful, simple new ideas such as the seed-on-a-reel product that makes planting seeds easy and accurate, a lotion that relieves bluebottle and insect stings and a special tailgate step ladder that is useful for stepping onto pickups (bakkies or 4×4’s) for household repairers and boulders.
All I’m saying is that gimmicks are fine if you want a novelty that will catch people’s attention. But if you want to reach a larger market, you need to have something that is practical, simple and smart and doesn’t break up into pieces the first time you use it.
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