Monday, January 7, 2013

Inventors With No Fear of Falling Off the Bike

Two bicycle-related stories caught my attention as I was catching up on some reading over holiday break. They will both be of interest to product managers and fans of beautiful design.

The first story is about Israeli inventor Izhar Gafni, who designed a cardboard bicycle... yes cardboard! Gafni's goal is to make production costs low enough to allow the bikes to be sold at retail for no more than $20. Such a low price could transform the lives of people living in poor countries who still walk miles per day to go to work or school, or to visit a doctor. He and his invention have been featured in the Huffington Post, Christian Science Monitor, and Dezeen, and it sounds like all the attention means that funding won't be the reason for success or failure of this unlikely, new product.

The other story is about a pair of Swedish inventors who turned everything that was known about bicycle helmets on its head (pun intended) and designed what they call the Hövding, or the "invisible bicycle helmet." Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin started developing this product as part of their Master thesis in 2005, and they haven't stopped since. The Hövding is an improbable blend of technology, materials, and fashion that may be making the major cycling gear manufacturers ask, "Why didn't we think of that?" Check out this 3 minute video to see how it works. Their company has received $10M in venture funding so far and now has 16 employees.

What makes these stories so appealing is that they are examples of industry outsiders who brought a unique perspective to a problem, then came up with a solution the so-called experts may never even have considered. This is humbling to those of us who work in product development and product management, as we are expected to be the experts and messengers of our markets. It's tempting to conclude that we should bring people or firms from other disciplines on board to help us, but if these brilliant ideas are 1 in a million (or even 1 in a hundred), what's the likelihood that such investments will actually lead to anything real? I think a more a sensible approach is to take the opportunities that come our way a little more seriously. Think twice before dismissing the email or phone call from the "young kid" with a big idea. And that silly prototype from the little startup company at the trade show? (It doesn't even have feature x, y, or z!) It might just be your next product.

1 comment:

  1. This is an IMPORTANT lesson. Great post!

    Another suggestion: Once a year, attend a tradeshow or conference outside of your business or area of expertise. You will come away refreshed and impressed with what other people in other industries are doing and be able to carry that excitement - and even some of the specific ideas - into your own work.