The 21st Century Suggestion Box


Ritz Carlton calls it “Radar-On Antenna Up”. A couple years ago I had the pleasure of hearing a representative from the Ritz speak about the importance of noticing what isn’t being said, what lies between the spoken words and desires of the customer. For them, this wasn’t about innovation, but customer service. But what if it could be both?

Understanding consumer/customer needs is one of the best ways of finding ways to innovate. Sometimes they don’t know the solution to the problem, but they have the problem – and that is where you come in. How often have you heard someone say, or said yourself:

  • “If only I had…”
  • “I wish I could…”
  • “Someone should invent…”
  • “I hate how…”
  • “This isn’t working…”

These are your clues. Not everyone is ready to notice them and capitalize on them, and not every clue is going to result in something trend worthy, but this is your start. When you take notice of what customers need and want you will actually have quick adopters of your products and services. So much of what has been innovated over the last century has been born out of a technology race. I am not suggesting that technology has hit it’s peak, what I am suggesting is that now that we have all of this technology why not take advantage of it by marrying the unlimited possibilities with what customers actually want and need.

A company that has exhibited a prowess for understanding customer needs is Proctor & Gamble. They have spent a lot of time and effort innovating from the customer backward. They have researchers who actually live with consumers in their houses or apartments for several days, joining them in the various activities that fill their day, from eating meals, to shopping. Through this they get an understanding for what the customers needs are, the pain points, what’s working, and more importantly – what isn’t!

Headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, Local Motors is a great example of a company that has gone to the public to support innovation. They use the concept of co-creation to drive innovation and design. The idea of co-creation is that Local Motors engages the public (some customers, some non-customers) in helping design their latest venture.  In addition, they have created an online hub for designers to present ideas for review from each other. They use social recognition and financial reward in order to attract contribution.

In terms of selection, Local Motors has engaged the public’s support in determining winning designs to move forward with. For instance, they recently ran a helmet design campaign, where designers could submit their work and the public voted on it.

In addition to contribution and selection, Local Motors also uses tinkering in their co-creation process. They engage the public to make modifications to commercially available products. You can see this in their webpage where there are a number of different designs for modified cars such as Audi, Porche, and even Honda Civics.

Through this process Local Motors is understanding the needs, desires, and wants of various individuals, and using public opinion to move forward with design. This basically allows them to incorporate market research with innovation and design.

“Stop selling what you have. Start selling what they need.”

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Local Motors isn’t the only company that has done this, Starbucks has a page on their website requesting suggestions and allowing others to vote and add comments. This process of co-creation is like the 21st century suggestion box, that allows companies to gather information and consumers to feel like they are part of the solution. You don’t have to be a creative genius, you just need to ask your customers what they want, what problem they need solved. This is the perfect marriage of innovation and customer service.


  • Look at things from your customer’s perspective – stop trying to push what you have on them, and discover what they need, what are the needs not being articulated?
  • Think about co-creation, the 21st century suggestion box – is this something you could employ?
  • What isn’t working? Powerful question. Customers don’t always know what they want, but they are usually clear on what they don’t want, what their pain points are, and what isn’t working for them.
  • Focus on local needs, demographics, groups, tastes – don’t go too broad, who is your target?

Your customers are a powerful source of information – start communicating with them!

The last four posts have been a reflection of “The Four Lenses of Innovation” by Rowan Gibson.

This is the fifth in a series of posts over a period of 6 weeks to help you and your business embrace innovation and creativity in your culture. Mind Set Grow is a business consulting company specializing in leadership development, creative problem solving strategy and coaching. For more information go to our full website at

One thought on “The 21st Century Suggestion Box

  1. Great article and reminder of the importance of innovation in staying relevant to the consumer. Too many companies seem to forget to regularly innovate/iterate products and services that better serve their customers. They end up resting on their laurels, and increase the risk of being upstaged by a new start-up that better serves/creates the market that consumers are wanting, and end up losing relevancy and market share.


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