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Book Review: Subject To Change – Creating Great Products In An Uncertain World By Peter Merholz, Brandon Schauer, David Verba, and Todd Wilkens

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Achieving business success in today's changing environment takes more than the time tested values that sustained us during the last century. Today the markets are unpredictable, and businesses need to rethink and reframe their strategies from the ground up. It is through a new way of thinking that we can transform our companies who struggle to adapt to today's environment into agile, successful organizations.

Subject To Change: Creating Great Products In An Uncertain World is written by four members of a leading experience and design company called Adaptive Path. In this book they attempt to demonstrate how successful business can and should use customer experiences to inform and shape the product development process from start to finish.
The authors lay the book down into eight basic insights.

First is that "The Experience is the Product." To deliver great products and services into an uncertain world you have to look at your customers and determine what are their abilities, their needs, and their desires. This is not meant to be done in an abstract form, but to really look at them. No longer is just adding additional features to an existing product sufficient to attract new audiences. You have to really visualize what the customer needs and adapt your product to satisfy those needs. Once you do that, you will understand that "the experience" is the product that you need to deliver.

From this you must grasp the idea of using experience as strategy. The only thing that matters is the experience, and to be successful you must have an experience strategy. This strategy has to be more than window dressing or lip service. It has to be what drives decisions about how the firm executes, maintains, and manages these experiences so as to create value for both the customer, as well as the firm.

You then need to find new ways of understanding people and make sure that they are no longer market segments or demographics. Here, by taking emotion, culture, context and the rest of the messy complex of human life into account leads to a new model for understanding our customers. The pitfall of most technology companies is that they focus on the technology and forget about the user experience. As the chapter pertaining to this new consumer relationship shows, you must know how to bring the user back into the picture.

After you get through the complexity understanding the customer, you then need to stop designing products, and start designing solutions. Those solutions must create experiences. To do this you first have to determine what people want to accomplish. How does the experience fit into their lives and how can you deliver on their desires. By asking these kinds of questions you take your focus away from developing one-off types of products and instead develop complete systems that create the user experience.

When you are able to accomplish these things you will then be prepared to tackle an uncertain world where certainty is unknown, and complex problems do not have simple answers. In working in a world that is subject to change without notice, success requires constant improvement, involvement, and you have to be ready to change.

Subject To Change is one of those books that mark the end of an era of thinking, and challenges companies to rethink their role in the market place. Intelligently written, incredibly easy to understand, and making a lot of sense, it actually puts to word a lot of what I have been seeing in the business world over the last five years. For example, old thinking allowed Sony to create the Walkman which was a very successful product. New thinking allowed Apple to create the iPod which is successful not because of a product, but because of an experience. The experience begins with the iPod, but continues through the managing of your music with iTunes, and buying of your music from the iTunes Music Store. That is what creating an experience is about. That is what Subject To Change is about.

The principles that are outlined in Subject To Change lay down a clear path for the future, and for companies willing to travel down this new highway the rewards will be great. I highly recommend Subject To Change as a road map to the future.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.