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Lovable Innovation: The Spotlight on GM

New 2015 GM Models are to be equipped with 4G LTE
Last week we posted an article about Adding "Lovable Innovation" to your Business Terms Dictionary, which was Part 1 in our segment on Lovable Innovation. Today, we are showing how lovable innovation changed the game for GM. More specifically, for Mary Barra. Quite possibly the most powerful woman in the auto-industry, Barra is the first female CEO of General Motors and has made it her mission to turn the company around by embracing innovation. 

Back in the 1970s, Detroit-based General Motors largely missed the quality movement that was taking place overseas. This opened the door to Japanese and other Asian car manufacturers to lower their costs and take the lead. During that time period they also made a wide range of confusing product decisions. I'm looking at you, Chevy Cavalier. Let's not forget the uninspiring "new" Chevy Malibu, the spurious Cadillac Cimarron, and the poorly executed Pontiac Aztec. 

"New" Chevy Malibu
But despite these product mishaps, GM has had its ups and downs with innovations over the years. Back in 1924 they introduced the first four wheel brakes, the first airbag in 1973, and the first ever catalytic converter in 1974. They also invented the once popular On-Star System, although it didn't seem to strike a chord with consumers. It appears that they reached a plateau in that era, because in recent decades it has been harder for them to bring their inventions from the drawing board to real life.

Cadillac Cimarron, not quite a Mercedes
They completely missed the mark for other major trends, like SUVs and Minivans. They even let the Japanese invent the cup holder! While GM was busy trying to figure out what customers want, they failed to figure out what customers love. Lovable Innovation is defined as the process of learning what customers really value and then delivering complete, lovable products services and experiences throughout the entire life cycle of the customer. Lovable Innovation leads to loyal, passionate customers who are inspired to tell their friends about the product and the company. This seems to be one thing that GM missed.

So how can GM (and other companies) apply Lovable Innovation principles to consistently capture customer's hearts? They must build the skills to uncover, validate and make very tough decisions on customer love elements as the core of a Lovable Innovation process. However, this is not easy. Customers cannot always articulate what they love. 

Mary Barra on the cover of Time Magazine
The challenge for companies that want to implement Lovable Innovation practices into their organization is that Love Elements for a given product or service may be different for each customer. It is up to these companies to identify, aggregate, and quantify these Love Elements. What does this mean? It means you have to effectively listen to your customers.

And since the only people who can tell companies if they've gotten the Love Elements right are the customers, it only makes sense to discover these Love Elements from customers before the product is developed.

Unfortunately, many companies have not yet figured out how to consistently work with customers to discover and deliver the Love Elements that make their products truly stand out in the marketplace.

There have been a number of companies over the years that have been completely unable to focus their innovation efforts on products that customers love. Companies such as Motorola, Kodak, Xerox, Blockbuster, MySpace, Schwinn, and yes GM, are just a few of the examples that have been publicly chided for their inability to embrace innovation. Many other companies are playing a game of catch up, and only time will determine their fate. For example, Blackberry and Microsoft are still responding to Apple's iPhone. Pandora has been surpassed by Spotify and iHeartRadio. Comcast is being disrupted by Netflix and Amazon by delivering video in a way that customers desire. Many companies have a lot of work to do in order to deliver new products, however, GM has an immediate need to retool their innovation efforts.

On the bright side, Barra has been turning things around at GM. She is currently in charge of engineering, design and quality for all GM vehicles across the globe, and was an early champion of the Chevy Cruze, which has been a top-selling compact car. Her advice to employees? "No more crappy cars." The result of her no-nonsense attitude has been exciting new product lines and innovative advances. In fact, in 2015 they are releasing built-in WiFi and 4G LTE in select GM models. GM says that technology offerings are becoming increasingly important to new car buyers. But will this be enough to turn GM around? Only time will tell...

This is Part 2 in our series of "Lovable Innovation" essays, written in collaboration with Dorian Simpson of Planning Innovations. Read Part 1 here.

Dorian Simpson is Managing Director of Planning Innovations Group, a leading product innovation training and consulting group based out of Portland, Oregon. Dorian was kind enough to provide us with his recent essay on "Lovable Innovation" that inspired this post.

Check out more from Dorian at

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