We’ve won Edisons before, but this one is special because of what FLEX represents. MTD is a major player in the outdoor power equipment industry, with extensive in-house resources; partnering with a business innovation firm like NS would seem unnecessary, at first glance. But CEO Robert Moll saw an alignment of opportunities: to pursue a radical new concept without disrupting work on existing product lines; mitigate risk through NS’s iterative process; and learn how NS uses consumer insights to guide every step of development.
Many companies operate on the belief that customers don’t know what they want — and to some extent, that’s true. Customers rarely describe new or improved products they want to buy. But they are experts at what frustrates them, what could make their lives easier and how much convenience is worth to them; you just have to know how to listen. In preliminary research for the concept that would become FLEX, we learned that the space- and cost-saving potential of a modular system was highly appealing. Its concept affirmed, MTD fully committed to the project and turned to NS to figure out the biggest hurdles, like designing it to be easy to use and affordable.
The result of the partnership was a whole new, innovative product line neither company could have brought to market on its own. Lowe’s named MTD one of its 2015 Innovation And Vendor Partners Of The Year, and Men’s Journal magazine hailed the system as “the Transformer of yard tools” in its Gear of The Year issue.
The project also changed the way MTD operates, due to Nottingham Spirk’s real-time innovation training for leaders that is built into each program.
We want to be a learning organization, and increase our bandwidth,” said Moll, “and this project helped us achieve that. We learned to appreciate consumer insights, and how we can make our own processes more robust.