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Airing the laundry.

If we’re out to make great products, Guy Kawasaki challenges us to find “the next curve.” And laundry seems due for a leap forward.

Photo by PETRA BAUMAN from Pexels
One of my favorite TEDx talks is by Guy Kawasaki on the Art of Innovation. When you’re sitting on a product platform, the current curve, you won’t even know you’re limiting yourself until you really think, what’s the next one? How do we get to THAT place?

Guy uses ice as an example:
  • Ice 1.0: These guys chopped ice out of the lake in blocks, which meant they lived somewhere really cold.
  • Ice 2.0: These guys didn’t need to live somewhere cold; they created an ice factory, supporting a bigger market with ice delivery trucks.
  • Ice 3.0: This is a refrigerator company, helping people make their own ice at home.

If you define yourself as, “We chop ice,” then you won’t leap to the next curve which is to make ice, let alone help other people make their own ice. When you define yourself by the work you do, not the outcome you want to achieve, you never jump curves. You’re stuck.

So to be innovative, you wanna jump curves. That’s revolutionary.

Curve drivers

The curve is often technology driven, like the jump from film to digital photography, but it can also be driven by resource scarcity. Vehicles are an example of this with the jump from gasoline to battery powered motors. Scarcity is a powerful driver of innovation. It’s set off a rumble of innovation in the farming industry as well as the packaging industry.

Ever see The Big Short? It’s a provocative movie about the super intelligent Wall Street hedge fund manager, Michael Burry, who spots market trends that others miss. He looks for the next curve. He’s not beholden to the old curve. He now tracks water in his investing; he looks where it’s plentiful and how that predicts and supports successful farming. Water scarcity feels like a big next curve.

I can easily see the next CPG curve being products that require, or at least contain, far less water. Which could also require less packaging (win-win). And with this I see an opportunity to make these products even more convenient. I mean, are drippy liquids really all that convenient? Maybe as a haircare product or a dish detergent, sure. I’ve been testing bar shampoos and conditioners and find that a liquid certainly lathers up faster, and in the shower or the sink I’m not so worried about where liquid might drip. Now in my laundry room, that’s a different story.

Okay, now about that laundry

Does it feel like laundry detergent is convenient? Tons of innovation happening in this category, and yet, I’m still fumbling with caps and pouring and spills. I remember the days of hauling my laundry across the street to DoDuds Laundry Mat with a little plastic container of powder detergent I’d pre-measured so I wouldn’t have to lug the heavy box. Dry powder is lighter and arguably easier to manage than a drippy liquid that clings to the sides of whatever you’re pouring from, but powder scatters all over the place if you don’t scoop it carefully enough. Even just opening the box causes it to broadcast everywhere. Not my favorite product experience. Liquid detergents seem wasteful, and the Coscto-sized spigot valve container I decided to try causes nothing but mess. I can’t wait for that thing to be empty so I can recycle all that plastic.

“But what about those amazing pods,” you say? Sure, okay. Pods are clean, when they don’t stick to each other. But there’s something about measuring the right amount that a pod just doesn’t satisfy. I never feel quite right when I use one pod and the laundry load is smaller or larger than “normal.” And some of the pod is still residual inside the detergent bin, so I wonder, did it really dispense the right way at all?

What I’m loving are these new granules that are scent boosters for the washer. They’re dry beads that you toss in with your detergent, presumably because these darn front load washers don’t get things as fresh as our trusty old top-load washers did (man I miss my Maytag top load machine). 

These beads are super easy to pour, to measure and to dump out. I wish my detergent was that easy! Even if I knock my elbow as I’m aiming for the washer (not an uncommon occurrence) and some beads spill onto the floor, they easily sweep up and toss right back where I want them, unlike the dry powder that wants to cling to my grout lines and the fringe of my broom. The other thing about beads is you can imagine them dispersing rapidly in the wash, not glomming up and causing uneven washing. The beads feel effective. Efficient.

Quick stop at the candy shop

If I rummage through the candy aisle, I find all sorts of crazy inspiration. Kids candy has always been a fun place to look for ideas. Kids aren’t afraid to experiment when it comes to sugar (broccoli, not so much, but sugar, YES). The packaging is crazy (even little flip-phone lollipops) and the product forms are endless. It’s all about texture and experiential tasting. Goopy, slimy, crunchy, powdery, there’s only the imagination to limit what sort of concoctions can be created.

So let’s play with that in laundry. Like, what about a dipstick that I pull out of the detergent tray and dunk into my dry detergent box? Or dry sheets of detergent that you toss on top of the clothes, one for a small load, three sheets for a mighty load? What about laundry detergent “tape” that you tear off in short or long strips depending on how much you need? Or my favorite, detergent “Nerds” (beads) that you can easily pour, measure and toss.
soap tape
soap sheets

Curve jump

Here’s the problem with this article, as with so many attempts to create something innovative. Did you catch it? If I believe I’m a company that makes laundry detergent, then I will focus on making better detergent. That’s just the kind of stuck we want to avoid. 

If we believe that water conservation is the next curve-defining jump, and our focus is on creating the outcome of fresh, clean clothes, then it begs the question, why are washing machine companies and detergent companies such hugely separate entities? And when will water not be required to clean our clothes? What if we use light to clean them? The questions start to shift dramatically. And so does the potential to be revolutionary.

In any event, finding better ways to serve the laundry experience with user-friendly and satisfying forms of detergent could be our focus, if we’re stepping (instead of jumping) our way forward. And there are fun, less-hassle ways to help us accomplish just that.

Getting a fresh view is smart. Evaluate the curve you’re on AND spot the jump to the curve you might be missing. That’s exactly the kind of juicy challenge I love, so yes, email me.


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