When “thought world” collisions produce light, not heat


In groundbreaking research on product development, Deborah Dougherty introduced the image of thought worlds to help understand the sources of success or failure in new product development projects. Grouped by the inhabitants’ similar points of view on “the market”, the thought worlds are: Technical, Field, Manufacturing, and Planners.

Each world’s unique ways of thinking about “the market”

 Field fears Technical’s fondness for “souping up” the technology. “The market wanted a Model T and they got a Ferrari without wheels. Once the idea gets started, it’s hard to stop them. Technical moves from what the market needed to what they can build.” (Dougherty p. 87)

 Technical fears Field’s very relaxed approach to customers’ needs. “There were a lot of specs, but these were only detailed conceptually. They wanted ‘something like this’. What ended up as a result is that the specs get interpreted more widely. You end up delivering something they didn’t ask for.“ (Dougherty p. 82)

 Technical includes the engineers and scientists in the company. They view a new product as something concrete, real and something you can touch, even software. In Technical’s thought world “the market” is an abstraction captured in a “market needs” statement.

 Field includes salespeople and sales support staff who interact regularly with customers. Field does not consider a new product as a concrete entity. Only customers’ needs are real.)

Manufacturing includes manufacturing engineers and production engineers. They believe other thought worlds do not appreciate Manufacturing’s difficulty with quick change. Their prime concerns are the new product’s market size and quality specifications.

 Planners include market researchers, business planners, forecasters, and market analysts. Planners focus on the future: on evolving business models and on possible moves by known or unsuspected competitors.

Cut It Loose: When collisions produce light

 Only four of the 16 new products were clear successes. Their developers made use of fresh market information from the onset and integrated their thought worlds into a cohesive effort. Less successful efforts produced more heat than light. They became mired in their business unit’s institutionalized routines for product development. These routines reinforced thought world distinctions and restricted creative learning.

Dougherty christened the successful pattern Cut It Loose. “In (Cut It Loose) the thought worlds played off one another, addressing issues that keep cropping up with knowledge or specialty (skills) rather than presumption. Amalgamation of the diverse thought world perspectives may be important for two reasons: it overcomes the penchant to focus on only some of the issues; and it facilitates the creative, emergent aspects of market development.” (Dougherty, p. 136)

A deep understanding, by each thought world, of unmet needs of desirable customers produces light not heat.

1. (1987) Deborah J. Dougherty, New Products in Old Organizations: The Myth of the Better Mousetrap in Search of the Beaten Path PhD thesis, MIT (Cited 1,400+ times since publication)