I just read an article in Forbes: “The End of the Engineer” by Tom Gillis and I could not agree more. Even though the title is a little mischievous, his point is very relevant in today’s consumer centric world.
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A few decades ago when society moved from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy, its learned to compete on the tenets of making things ‘Better, faster and cheaper’. Companies with the best engineers were able to succeed because they made the fastest and cheapest machines and tools. It was all about efficiency and effectiveness of the product. However, it’s not just about the efficiency or effectiveness of the product anymore, i.e., companies cannot compete solely on their ability to make things even faster, better or cheaper than they already are.
To explain this a little more, take the example of computer processors: a few years ago, when computer processor available in market had a speed of 1.0 GHz and a company X makes one with 1.5 GHz, it had an edge to sell on the basis of having a faster processor. However, now a day’s its common to have processor with 2.4 GHz and if another company comes and touts the fact that its new processor speed is 2.7 GHz, it would not be a big selling point. To most consumers this fact might almost be irrelevant in their final decision. So, what has really changed?
Manufacturing processes, distribution mechanism and anything which needs engineering has been commoditized, i.e., most companies are making products which have reached a high level of ‘better, faster, cheaper’ and any further improvement would not be so significant to disrupt sales (think laptop configuration of Dell vs. Apple vs. HP vs. Toshiba vs. Acer) . However, what lies ahead of us is a challenge to use these existing technologies to better solve consumer problems not just make the machine look more sophisticated.
However, I am not saying that we do not need engineers, we definitely do. But all that I am implying is that engineers might not be able to disrupt markets by just making things “better, faster and cheaper”, they need to understand the Consumer mindset. We are in a consumer centric age, where understanding the consumer’s perspective gives a company leverage over its competitors and helps them produce the most innovative product (Note: this innovative product might have nothing to do with new technology. All it might take is using the current technology to actually better serve the customer).
The best example of a company which might not have the fastest processors, brightest display, or most disruptive technology built inside the computer, but is still selling like hot cakes is APPLE. It’s a company which is leveraging itself on its ability to better understand its customer. So the future belongs to companies which do not just have the brain, but the heart to understand the pulse of the customer.
To end this article, I would just like to say that I agree with Tom Gillis’ that “Great companies of tomorrow will not be defined by products that are better, faster, and cheaper, but by products that are sexier and smarter”. What do you think??
Image: Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net