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Improve to the Nth Degree and Reap Exponential Rewards

Dec 25, 2007
Improve your accounting and you'll get the good or bad news about how you are performing a little faster and more accurately. Improve your new product development process, and you'll grow faster and make a lot more money.

Most choices about what to improve aren't so clear cut as that comparison suggests. For example, how should you choose among potential product development projects with your improved process?

Nth degree thinking requires you to take one element of your business environment and expand it to extremes . . . both much larger and much smaller than you can possibly imagine could occur. In picking breakthrough opportunities, you should also apply nth degree thinking. To do so you stretch the benefits that stakeholders could gain or lose to their limits.

Here's an example. Linear Technology specializes in providing semiconductors that allow portable electronic devices to operate longer on battery power. If we look at that battery-life-extending quality, stretching the benefit to the nth degree means having portable devices that never lose power while you are using them.

Under such circumstances, we could expect that every device that is now used in a plugged-in, stationery environment would be more often supplemented by a portable version . . . assuming weight and other forms of inconvenience did not prohibit that use.

For a comparison, Linear Technology could also look at the effect of vastly lowering the costs to provide its semiconductors and how much that would change benefits to customers and ultimate consumers. Since these chips are a small part of the portable devices and Linear Technology has a high market share, this cost benefit is probably smaller than by making battery life unlimited.

If that is the case, Linear Technology should focus on its battery-life-extending qualities rather than cost reductions.

In looking at the technical limits of its semiconductors to extend battery life, Linear Technology needs to then apply the nth degree thinking to the various technical choices to accomplish unlimited battery life. These choices might include using less power to perform the same task, draining batteries less for the same power usage and gaining more stored energy through the device's use.

If any of these qualities could be extended to the nth degree, that quality would enable unlimited device use.

The nth degree test next needs to be applied to the theoretical limits of each technology choice.

For instance, if a device were operated with only the minimum power required by current technology, how much could power usage be reduced? If batteries were drained in the optimal way, how much longer would they last? If more energy could be stored through the device's use through solar panels and heat exchanges, how much would that extend battery life?

Without going into the physics of the problem, let's assume for our purposes that storing more energy is the maximum improvement that is theoretically available. After all, devices are usually located in warm environments with lots of light around, held by people in even warmer hands, moved and poked at with fingers, and taken into different physical environments.

Which technical solutions would work best at the lowest cost? Those potential solutions should become the focus of finding one change that will create the most benefits.

If you do not work in a high technology environment, you may be wondering what your choices might look like. Let's consider a book publisher.

Assume that our book publisher examines the following areas using the nth degree test for competitive and profit impact: cost of development; cost of production; duration of development; distribution availability in bookstores; amount of publicity; amount of positive word-of-mouth comments; pleasure that readers get from the book; what percentage of readers like the book; and pricing.

Notice that taking the number of positive word-of-mouth comments to the maximum would tend to overwhelm the other areas.

Most publishers, however, don't put much attention in that area. A publisher that did could probably expect to create an overwhelming 2,000 percent solution for its books and its publishing performance.

What does nth degree thinking tell you that you should be working on when making breakthroughs?
About the Author
Donald Mitchell is coauthor of six books including The 2,000 Percent Squared Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution, and The 2,000 Percent Solution Workbook. Read about creating breakthroughs through 2,000 percent solutions by registering for free at

http://www.2000percentsolution.com .
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