The Killer Tweak

I’ve been trying to work an idea I’ve had for a while now into a blog post, and James Gardner’s post When Small Innovations Are Good finally gave me the launching pad. According to James, not all innovations must be game-changing and industry-disruptive:

Do lots of incremental innovation, and you have a large portfolio of returns. Do lots of ground breaking, and you may have a hit product/service/process which pays off big time, but the probability is that you won’t.”

I couldn’t agree more.

It seems, however, like too many financial firms are looking for a killer app — whether it’s to drive online banking adoption higher (see my comments on why PFM will not accomplish this), spur the use of online bill pay, or create that one great product or service that will make customers fall in love with them, give them all their money, and never leave.

What might they be missing? The Killer Tweak. It’s that one little service enhancement, one simple application functionality addition, one new product feature, etc. that just makes a disproportionate impact on the customer experience by adding convenience, improving quality, or reducing cycle time.

Based on his comments, I’m not sure that James would consider a killer tweak an “innovation” because it’s too close to “business as usual.”

Focusing on that distinction is potentially harmful. It’s great that there are a growing number of firms creating teams focused on innovation. But I can’t help but wonder if, by focusing on innovation versus optimization (or process improvement), opportunities to find the killer tweak are being overlooked.

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6 thoughts on “The Killer Tweak

  1. Ron, I think the reason few go after the killer “tweak” — it’s not newsworthy enough. Everyone, including the CEO’s seem to want something splashy these days that will get their company lots of additional publicity. Service enhancements just aren’t “newsy”.

    Frankly I’m with you practical and simply innovative enhancements win the day and fortunately I work for a company focussed on just that path — making it easier for members to do business with us.

  2. I wrote about something similar two years ago, with regard to what I was calling “stealth projects.”

    And I think benry hits the nail on the head with why tweaks, stealth projects, evolution, etc. aren’t popular. I’ve been in situations where it was better for my mental health to stay below the radar, but that isn’t the general way of things.

  3. I think the distinction between incremental improvement and incremental innovation could help many executives and marketers as they look to enhance their products/processes/customer experience. I also think the difference between incremental innovation and earth-shattering change could help many people as well.

    I was recently at a conference where I heard a banker say that financial institutions “just need to do something crazy”. And, I think that many people share this kind of thinking – where innovation is seen as some kind of revolutionary change that requires reinventing the wheel.

    Ron, I like “The Killer Tweak” concept – as it presses those who usually take the safe, comfortable route of incremental improvement to identify opportunities to make meaningful and relevant enhancements that can really have an impact. And, it’s a great way to illustrate that innovation doesn’t have to be “something crazy”.

  4. This article and these comments really resonated with me.

    I just wrote on this same subject related to the direct marketing field entitled “What Is Your Big Idea?”. I wrote:
    “As with any strategy, direct marketing relies upon a set of discovery processes including research, testing and analytics. It is out of this discipline that big ideas emerge.”

    It’s a brief comment on that irritating question, “What’s the big idea?” It’s as if every great achievement relies on a single idea that no one has ever thought of before.

    As Solomon said thousands of years ago in the Old Testament in Ecclesiastes:
    “What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.”

  5. I’ve noticed that my 5-year-old son has been going thru a lot of paper lately as he’s been learning to draw the “perfect truck”. I know he’s trying to impress his artistic dad. I reviewed the large stack of “rejects”. All but a few were short squiggles or a series of circles. All were one-sided. I was a little annoyed by the waste.

    I insisted that, instead of stopping after a squiggle, he complete each drawing to the best of his ability. I also insisted that he use both sides (this more to appease my cheap little Oriental soul). He was not a happy camper at first, but he decided to apply himself to the new regiment. I have seen a vast improvement in his drawings. Occasionally, his drawings are truly extraordinary.

    I am with benry. I think too many companies put too much emphasis on the “newsy” and not enough on improvements or enhancements.

  6. The best tweak ever was when my credit union’s online banking system allowed me to pay more than one bill on a single page with the transaction total. This simplified my life by giving me TIME. I used to have to go through a three step process PER BILL. This translated into real value – more time with my family on Saturday. This one change made me value my credit union more, and feel proud to be a member.

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