“The Right It” means “VERIFY” It’s all about the Pretotype, not the Prototype! Don’t let NPD be FLOP.


Have you ever come across the interesting mechanical device called The Mechanical Turk? This machine, which plays chess, was invented in 1770 and wore Ottoman clothing of those years and resembled a Turk in appearance. It is a real invention and can be found on Google. From 1770 to 1854, the chess robot naturally surprised many people, and there was no one left in Europe that it had not defeated. The automaton had been built in Vienna by the mechanic Wolfgang von Kempelen, who had worked in the service of Empress Maria Theresa. On a wheeled maple cabin with an inscribed chessboard sat the Turkish figure with a mustache, a turban, and a cape. Behind the door of the cabin, inside many large and small levers, rollers and other complex mechanical systems could be seen. When the established Turk began to play chess with his volunteer, its eyes scanned the chessboard, occasionally shaking his head, and moving the chess pieces with his hand.

A chess master would enter the box after the inside of the machine had been shown to the audience. Inside the cabin was a second chessboard that helped the operator follow the game. Under the main chessboard where the vending machine plays, there was a spring-shaped mechanism under each square and a magnet under each stone. Thanks to this system, the player in the cabin could keep track of which piece was played to which square and could move the Mechanical Turk by using a special mechanism that notifies the main board of his moves on the secondary chessboard. It is not known who played the game inside the Mechanical Turk from its first production until 1787. One of the people who played chess in the automaton in the 50 years 1787-1837 was the dwarf chess master Jacques-François Mouret. So why was it Turkish? There have been various rumors on the subject. First of all, it is thought that the Turkish name was given because the Turkish culture of the period had attracted attention in Europe. Another rumor is that since most of Europe was affected by Turkish raids and lived under Turkish rule for a significant time, famous names in Europe were offered the opportunity to beat the Turks on the chess table. Of course, it is necessary to proudly mention Cezeri, who was born in 1136 in Cizre, one of the first real mechanics and robot masters in history. He is a Muslim scientist and engineer who worked in the Golden Age of Islam. Ebû’l İz Al Cezeri (al-Jazar), who is considered to have taken the first steps in cybernetics and built and operated the first robot, is thought to have been an inspiration for Leonardo da Vinci. (**)

For years everyone tried to unravel the secret of the chess machine “the Mechanical Turk”. Some produced very interesting theories, and these explanations were widely published in newspapers and books. After Kempelen died in Vienna in 1804, the vending machine changed hands several times. The Mechanical Turk, who had defeated Napoleon Bonaparte in 1809, continued its chess victories in France and England, and gained its greatest reputation in this period. Benjamin Franklin suspected that there was a cheat in the undefeatable Mechanical Turk, but he could not confirm this in his lifetime. The automaton, which changed ownership until 1854 when in that year it was donated to a museum in Philadelphia. 85 years after its construction, the Mechanical Turk burned down in the Great Philadelphia Fire and became part of history. Today, many copies of the Mechanical Turk decorate museums.

The Mechanical Turk reminded me of the Coca-Cola Happiness Vending Machine I saw around 10 years ago when I went to the Cannes Advertising Festival. They placed a vending machine with a human in it, in universities. He made everyone happy by giving free products. Later, Unilever, Walkers did something similar and we adapted it to the concept of “A Happy Moment” we used in those days and gave surprise gifts to those who dialed the vending machine numbers. Does one wonder why in all this I have mentioned the chess machine called the Mechanical Turk? It brought to mind several things.

I recently wrote that one of the issues that occupied my mind is not to produce innovative, disruptive products, but to retain them, that is, to be successful in the market. I received the book by Alberto Savoia called the right it: WHY SO MANY IDEAS FAIL AND HOW TO MAKE SURE YOURS SUCCEED (**). It is a nice book, its font size is large and it is easy to read. The author has recently worked as Engineering Director and Innovation Agitator Emeritus at Google, Software Research Director at Sun Microsystems, is the winner of many innovation awards, is now working as a consultant, and has been giving seminars at universities on the “The Law of Market Failure“. In the book, I came across the Mechanical Turk Chess automat. I had never heard of it before. Once I had looked into it more, I decided to share what I’ve read. By the way, how did the Mechanical Turkish vending machine inspire IBM’s new product experiment? The answer is at the end of the article!

Alberto Savoia starts off his book with a very realistic law. This is something akin to the law in natural sciences we’re talking about here. Those with a new idea often think, “Failure is not even an alternative”, whereas a new idea is “most likely to fail!” The reason he has accepted it as a law is that so many new ideas have failed, so we have enough evidence to accept it as a law. New products mean investment. What kind of investment? Money, time, resources, reputation, in short, everything. You invest because you want more revenue, profit, market share, new customers, and reputation. If you cannot get as much or more than you invested, it is a failure. Savoia states that the new product failure rate varies according to the type of business and industry. In the consumer products market, Nielsen tracks tens of thousands of products launched each year. Do you know what percentage of products get “failed”, “disappointed”, and “canceled” results of these new product launches? 80 percent. This result does not change year to year.

In the software sector, the result is no different. So new product failure is clear, consistent, and persuasive. Savoia touches upon a very important issue here. Especially managers in the FMCG sector; if you think that new research and marketing techniques can only be applied to technology-heavy products and therefore don’t bind them, that’s wrong! Many principles now also bind non-technical technology sectors, thus, accordingly, preparation and implementation are required.

So why do most products fail? To answer, let’s first look at the following equation: Correct A x Correct B x Correct C x Correct D x Correct E = New Product Success. Probably the first thing you learn when you take a math class is that if you multiply a number by zero, no matter how large it is, the result is zero. In other words, no matter how successful you do all other factors, if you calculate one factor wrong, the result is 0.

Given the necessary logic and statistical data, many people believe that many new products fail. But Savoia does not believe in the second part of the work: “… even if the product is produced perfectly.” Savoia gives two very important examples at this point. One is Coca-Cola’s New Coke, the other is colorless, decaffeinated Crystal Pepsi. Both failed. Do you think every Disney movie is successful? No one has heard of the movie named John Carter, which was released after spending 400 million dollars to create it. That’s because nobody went to see it. The famous director of Star Wars, George Lucas made a movie called Howard the Duck after Star Wars, but the movie became a failure legend. Google is one of the most experienced and talented companies. Everyone knows the success of Google Search, Google Maps, and Gmail products that it released after the creation of Google. But have you ever heard of Google Wave, Google Buzz, Google Glass, Jaiku, and Google Answer products? Perhaps you have heard of Google Glass, but did you know that it along with many others all failed? When you type in Google Graveyard or Microsoft Morgue on Pinterest, you will see scores of unsuccessful products. Many companies do not report their failures and bury them as soon as possible. Nobody writes these failures on their CV.

McDonald’s’ Morgue includes McLobster, Hula Burger, and McSpaghetti. By the way, the failure rate is not only high in aggressive or attack companies. This rate is the same in more cautious companies as well.

Savoia says that any project fails for three reasons: Launch, Operations, and Premise. Savoia put the F of Failure in front of him and created an acronym called FLOP. In other words, collapse! Savoia’s claim is as follows; too few products fail because they fail in generating awareness or because they are manufactured incorrectly. The main reason for failure is having the wrong product idea! Businesses have no problems in producing the product correctly and presenting it to the right market. The problem is producing the right one, The Right It!

So let’s ask the crucial question, why is new product failure more than success despite spending so much time and money at companies where so many successful people work? Why does a company with so many experts fail? Don’t they know they need to do market research before launching a new product? Why do they insist on doing what’s wrong, even though everyone knows that the promise of the right sale, that is, meeting the right need, is the most important issue, while spending enough time and money on market research to produce the right product that supports this promise?

“So the problem is with their research to test the idea of the new product…” says Mr. Savoia. I agree with Alberto Savoia. Most of the time, when new product research is put into my hands, I often respond in disbelief. Savoia also attributes the failure of researching so much research to the fact that the research is done entirely in a virtual environment and not under real market conditions. Marketers say they portray the idea of a new product in a simple, pure, abstract way in the “thoughtland” that they create in their own thoughts. Once a product idea is found, that idea is animated in this “assumed world” and after a while, biased subjective judgments dominate and not data, evidence. Without relying on evidence, a kind of “free shot” state is passed.

The English idiom ‘skin in the game’ I compare to the Turkish idiom ‘divorce is easy for a single man’. Savoia states, “You cannot expect dedication, seriousness, thoughtfulness from the subject in the study, as it does not feel any risk. This is why the lack of evidence-based judgment in this “assumed world” often finds its counterpart in this idiomatic phrase “divorce is easy for a single man”. However, as long as the right market research is not done, the right product coming out of this “assumed world” depends on luck as long as there is no exit into the real world. Unfortunately, most market research for the new product idea is based on the “assumed world“. Interestingly, research companies contribute to this “assumed world” with so-called “focus” research, but the result cannot go beyond hocus focus!

One of the interesting examples in the book is as follows: Alberto Beer Company (ABC) wants to develop a new product to get a share of the women’s drink market. They have very experienced marketers and managers. They decide to use a focus group to better understand the women’s drink market. They bring female drinkers to a one-way mirrored room and ask the following questions: 1) how often do you drink beer when you drink? 2) What do you prefer when you drink other than beer, why? 3) What is the reason you don’t drink beer more often? As a result, 55% said that they found white wine suitable for women, saying that ‘Telling the bartender ‘Bring me a Bud” not ladylike. 31% stated light beer was “too light” and “tasteless”, and non-light beers “heavy and bitter”. 38% said that if it was a feminine beer brand, they would prefer it ordering it from a bartender. According to this data, ABC Company has come to the idea of a new product called LadyLike, which is light but tastes better, has a more elegant bottle and has taste varieties. Managers liked the idea. A beautiful logo, and a bottle were designed and they made a second focus group to make sure it was brought to the right places. A new brand was presented to this group, they tasted the product and this time the following questions were asked: 1) would you prefer LadyLike to white wine? 2) LadyLike, light beer or regular beer? 3) Peach flavored LadyLike or cantaloupe? The results of the second group were as follows: 47% of those who normally prefer white wine said they would drink LadyLike if they could. 54% preferred LadyLike to light or regular beer and 82% preferred peach to cantaloupe.

Of course, when these results came in, a double-digit market share growth potential began shining in the eyes of the managers and they approved the launch of millions of dollars to the budget and of course, in the following moments, began dreaming about the bonuses they would receive. Thus, millions of dollars were spent for nine months, Ladylike entered bars and markets. However, after a few months, 6-packs began to be kept in refrigerators with only a bottle missing. All that money and effort, with the slogan that should have been “One sip and that’s it!” Few women tried the product that was put on the market and those who tried it did not buy it again.

You can find many stories like this in the market, including in Turkey. Research companies, like us, do not brag about their failed work. The most “brand name” research companies, the incredible money spent, the show off flying and fleeing numbers, but we see the team has been going in the wrong direction. A focus group itself can be useful, but it should definitely be controlled and checked with complementary and reasonably priced research that gives good results. When you have a serious health problem, are you satisfied with a single doctor’s opinion?

Speaking of failure, let me give an example from the past and you decide. The product name is MALTANA, a malt drink, which has nothing to do with beer. Since it is not fermented, it is not like non-alcoholic beer at all! Because that type of beer is later de-alcoholized. It’s a product currently sold at a premium price on the market, but it didn’t do so well due to certain prejudices and thus could not reach desired boom in sales. The premium packaging and price, and the definition of malt drink made it more difficult. We learn something new every day.

The most important issue in market research is to do research with the right tools and techniques. Well-planned, well-executed market research provides interesting consumer insights. The important thing is how much weight we put into these insights when it comes to our decision-making. “If you’re doing focus research regardless of what you’re measuring, focus research, which gives great results in finding insight, trend-setting, creativity testing, turns to focus in testing new product ideas,” says Savoia. Why? Because the “world of assumptions” contains mental traps. What are these mental traps? The first is abstraction, the new idea is abstract because it is difficult to explain. The second is guessing as it’s difficult to experience the new idea. Third, is that it’s easy for a single man to divorce because people can promise plenty if they have nothing to gain and/or lose. The fourth is affirmative bias, which is, looking at evidence that supports our own opinion and ignoring others. In Turkey, most people watching TV channels or influencers who support their own world view is the best example of this. Daniel Kahneman, winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics, talks about such cognitive errors in his 2010 book, ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’. In fact, as you may know, the father of all these errors is the scientist Amos Tverski, who died at the age of 59. Kahneman and Tverski worked together. Here is what Tverski said about affirmation bias: ‘Once we put forward a hypothesis or interpretation, we overestimate the likelihood of it happening and it becomes difficult for us to see things in any other way’.

Now let’s consider how the 4 mental traps above troll together:

Let the first original idea be distorted because it is abstract. Guess the wrong experiences from the distorted idea (misunderstandings of what the new product is), let no one care about gains and losses, the idea distorted by false misunderstandings, and let the thoughts that support the obtained biased thoughts be carefully selected with the approval bias. From here to objective, reliable, action, is it even possible to get data for this? The “world of assumption’ that I mentioned above can produce subjective, biased i.e. false ideas.

So what’s the solution? To produce our own correct data. Data beats any opinion! “Don’t rely on other people’s data,” says Savoia. The important thing is to collect your own data. The most important issue when designing research is that the sample is representative. So you should talk to people who have the potential of buying your product.

20 years ago just before personal computing development and internet evolution IBM was a giant in the mainframe and writing business. There was a typewriter back then, and IBMs took the place of typewriter in editorial work. At that time, few people such as secretaries, writers, computer programmers, etc. wrote quickly and accurately. Many people were one fingered at the typewriter business, slow and bad. There were professional typewriters at the time, and they were difficult to handle. IBM decided in those days to produce technology that converted speech to text. Imagine the time when the simple speech-to-text job was discovered 20 years ago. You will simply speak and the words will magically appear on the screen. It’s like the flying car which has been in our dreams for almost 50 years. The product seemed to IBM executives to reduce the need for professional typewriters and save a lot of money. That is if the intended users felt comfortable using the product…

According to the “Assumption World,” everyone would love the idea, except professional printers. They thought that everyone wanted to use a computer but did not want to spend time writing. However, the company wanted to see the real reaction of the market in order to enter into this business which required high amounts of energy in terms of both money and time. The easiest thing was to make a prototype (mock-up) and show it to people. But there was a problem; at that time, it required a great deal of processing power to translate speech into text, computers of that time did not have that power, and computers were much more expensive than they are today. IBM was almost 10 years behind in making such a prototype. IBM researchers instead had a clever idea. They created a working environment with a computer case, screen, and microphone but no keyboard. They stated they had created a prototype of the revolutionary computer that converted speech to text to a certain number of potential users. They gave instructions and asked them about the new invention. Participants in the experiment picked up the microphone and started talking, and with little delay, letters began to appear on the screen. Participants were very impressed with what they saw. Actually, this is what happened. There was no machine to convert a speech to text. The computer in the room was completely modeled. In the next room, a skilled typewriter listening to the conversation immediately writes what he/she had heard in the traditional way, and the model appeared on the screen. IBM has learned a lot from this experiment. At first, people who were very impressed in the “Assumption World” changed their minds after they had used the system a few hours. They found the new invention quite problematic, as they suffered from throat dryness, that constant conversation created a rather noisy work environment, and it was not a suitable method for rush materials. IBM’s model was not exactly a prototype. It was literally a pretotype, a “pretend” prototype and it had worked! At that moment, our writers, including IBM, were lightning fast, and they had pitied the millions of dollars and months that had been invested in producing prototypes up until that point. However, what had needed to be done was to use creativity and give the consumer a pretotype pretending to be as little or low as possible for preliminary research. Imagine if IBM had produced the prototype with a negative result in millions of dollars instead of the pretotype!

Now wait one minute. Where did this pretotype idea of IBM come from? It came from the Mechanical Turk. To be a completely Mechanical Turk, IBM would have had to create little men, put them inside the computer case and feed them cheese and crackers from the disc slot, but what the management had thought of was less troublesome and costly. So they discovered that this timeless thought was an idea that didn’t make any money that day.

The pretotype is designed to test whether an idea is feasible, or not cheap and fast, while the prototype is designed to test variables such as how the new idea can be made, how it will work, what size and color it will be good at. Although the two designs look the same, that is, they are both in a sense “pasta”, they differ from each other, such as spaghetti and linguini do. Also, the cost is of course 1000TL, while it is possible to spend hundreds of thousands of lira for the second one. Alberto Savoia’s book offers a lot of tools and tactics to bring the right idea to life while developing new products, but I think the most interesting idea is that of the pretotype. For this, along with the Mechanical Turk Approach, the Pinocchio Approach (producing products close to the final product with different materials), the Fake Door Approach (fake door, physically looking at the number of applicants through fake shops, brochures, advertising), the Frontline Approach (fake to look for clicks on the internet Advertisement) explain that approaches such as the YouTube Approach (collecting ideas with the help of videos) can be used as a test tool. In this respect, the idea of Pretotype is really a paradigm-breaking idea and should be added by new product developers to their processes, and it should be carefully checked whether the research results come from “easily divorced singles”, that is, the work of the “world of assumptions”. Using creativity and correct pretotype methods will create new ideas; yet businesses will continue to waste resources on new products if they are not tested under competitive influence in real buying environments! There are also new products that are abandoned even though they will keep you unhappy as a result.

Note: This article, which is open source, can be cited by mentioning the author. Copyright not required.



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(***) Savoia, Alberto. The Right It: Why so Many Ideas Fail and How to Make Sure Yours Succeed. HarperOne