Faculty Guest Post: Using Grammar to Conceive New Product and Service Functions

Innovation comes from many things, but it can also come from a change in grammar.

How so? Companies or divisions looking for ways to innovate might consider a simple device: to cast their product or service functions in terms of new verb-object combinations. This can be achieved via lists of other verbs and objects to conceive new products and services. 

Are you in a verb business or an object business?

For years, Kodak was in the copy (or reproduction) business, and OM Scott was in the lawn business. Considering the history of successful new products and services, many innovations have been based on simple changes in verbs or objects or both.

Skis were developed so that people could ski on snow.  Snowboards came later so they could surf on snow. Plastics have been used for years to wrap sandwiches. Now they are used to wrap giant sailboats for winter storage. Procter & Gamble redefined their shampoo business with Head and Shoulders, from a shampoo that “washes hair” to one that “protects scalps.”

This technique has served companies well as they look for new takes on their business portfolios and it’s only a word or two away. 

Jeff Durgee is an associate professor at the Rensselaer Lally School of Management.

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