Are you looking in when you should be looking out?

Back when educational technology came in the form of a disk, I was a higher ed political science textbook editor looking for a killer competitive advantage.  I had the good fortune to work with a developer who knew some tricks and had more than a passing interest in politics.  We set out to build a super cool Congressional simulation that let students try to pass a bill through Congress.  We didn’t have a ton of resources, but our management liked the idea. “Cool,” they said.  We showed some of our colleagues.  “Cool,” they said.  We showed the idea to some of our authors.  “Cool,” they said.  We were pretty excited and asked some government faculty if they thought it was cool, too.  And they said, “Yes, totally cool.”  So, naturally, we went off and built a pretty cool simulation (at least by the standards of a 90’s textbook company).  It failed.  What had gone wrong?  Hadn’t everyone told us it was cool?

Everyone but Professor Petrie.  Professor Petrie taught American Government at a state university.  The course was part of the required social science curriculum, so it was a large lecture course.  He was my bread and butter; my target customer.  And when I asked him if he thought it was cool, he said “Yes… but I would never spend that much time discussing ‘How a Bill Becomes a Law.’  And see right here in the book, this flow chart actually works great.  Students read it, they understand it, and it serves as a roadmap as we discuss particular policies.”  And he didn’t care that it was cool.  It was overblown and not useful.   I let “cool” outweigh “useful.”   I turned to my internal team to validate my product.  I let internal voices drive development--instead of my customer.

I wish that I could say everyone learned their lesson in the late 90’s.  Today as I work with companies big and small, I hear my mistakes repeated.  “Beth, tell the customer we have this great new way to do x.” “Beth, make sure they know that we can do y.”  “In the next release, tell them we will do z.”  Sure, it’s cool because it cleverly uses the latest technology to deliver on a need.  But whose need is it? The problem is that our customers often have other needs--real-life-with-my-students-not-so-sexy- needs--that have nothing to do with “cool” and everything to do with learning and workflow.   

As we try to “cool” ourselves into the next sale, the next round of funding, the new press release, we are missing our target.  The coolest thing we can do is improve learning for teachers and students.

If you could use some help moving from internal to external cool, give us a call.