Why Fix It…

Mitch Hobish Innovation, Leadership, Productivity

An item in this morning’s online Wall Street Journal caught my eye.  It deals with a redesign of a very common office and household item, the venerable paper clip.

In summary, ACCO Brands Corp., one of two key manufacturers of this item, is introducing a new version of the paper clip, which they’ve been making since 1903.  From a purely functional perspective, such a redesign may be justified:  The standard paper clip suffers from several deficiencies—at least, in my hands.  I too often find myself using too small a clip for a large stack of papers, which not only bends the clip out of shape (thereby limiting its holding powers), but in my haste to get things done, I also find that the ends of the clip dig gouges in the papers it’s holding.

On the other hand, I (and, to be sure, many others) find other uses for the paper clip.  I unfold them to stick into recesses to force CD/DVD drawers to open on the odd occasion that they jam, and to reset my MP3 player after I brick it by trying to update it.  Using paper clips to hang things such as ornaments is common, or for hanging things on belts, or unclogging glue holes in dispensers, or…

The new clip appears to do away with the aforementioned difficulties, and shows signs of careful design concepts and engineering.  With a tactile and audible “click” as it shifts from hold to non-hold status, it offers more interactivity than its venerable forbear, and provides some feedback to help ensure its function.

On the other hand, it doesn’t appear to be usable for anything else—at least, not without some inventiveness on the part of its potential buyers—never something to be discounted.

Assuming this is a downside, there’s another, perhaps more important one:  On a per-clip basis, its cost will be some 16 times greater than its antecedent.

A representative of the manufacturer acknowledges that there’s very little “pull” for a redesign, especially in light of all the alternative uses.  Why, then, expend resources and ask the customer to change over a century’s worth of habits and limited expense in favor of a new design?

Questions:  How do you determine what your customers want?  What they need? How do you measure customer satisfaction?  Are your products and services responsive to pull, or do you push them?  If something works—and with a proven business model—what might cause you to completey redesign your product or service?