… and a hidden danger for the RV Manufacturing Industry.

Regardless of industry, company size, or location, successful organizations gather, analyze and rely on customer feedback. Engaged customers often see problems and opportunities faster than the industry itself will. An excellent example of this customer feedback system are the two e-magazines that speak to the truck camper user community that Sheila and I are an increasingly active part of. One is Truck Camper Adventure Magazine (TCA), published by Mike and Karen Smith and another, Truck Camper Magazine (TCM), published by Gordon and Angela White. Both magazines constantly gather insights, recommendations and reviews from fellow truck campers. In their magazines, you’ll read “maker stories” describing “modifications” that truck camper owners implement on their rigs to improve on the manufacturer’s design, or overcome common irritating issues with truck campers in general.  

Each couple knows that the readership of their online magazine is more likely to respect them if they really experience “truck camping” in all of its forms and locations. Mike and Karen have just run their first Truck Camper Adventure Rally and Overland Trip that we attended. Gordon and Angela live, travel, and publish their magazine from a truck camper.

But the Whites, as described in their triple dog dare newsletter see a problem, as do we. We heard confirmation of this widely held perception at the Truck Camper Adventure rally over the last 5 days.

Accurate or not, there is a strong perception in the Truck Camper user community that  RV manufacturers don’t really understand, accept or utilize the free-to-be-seen customer feedback these magazines are gathering. In part, it is widely believed, because senior executives of these companies are not spending time in their own truck campers. An engineer I spoke with at the Truck Camper Adventure Rally confirmed my view that a new or improved Lean Product Development/manufacturing process, combined with a creative problem solving culture, could create great cost neutral improvements, and likely increase margin for the RV manufacturing world while still increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty. We’ve both seen it in many companies we’ve worked with. He, as an engineer in aerospace, automotive and electronics, me as a product development facilitator and organizational development consultant in those sectors and across hundreds of businesses in many others.

True or not, it is the common perception. That perception creates an opportunity and a danger.

“I cannot believe they actually use their own Truck Campers, or they would make sure this problem is prevented by design changes or by improving manufacturing processes.” With far less experience and exposure than either of these couples,  Sheila and I have heard versions of this statement numerous times from other owners, and in online forums. So the Whites did something innovatively brilliant.

In their newsletter, they triple-dog dared “the management teams at every truck camper manufacturer to go on at least one two-day, two-night truck camping adventure in one of their own truck campers.” And as you’ll see if you read on, even for the manufacturers who do use their products, a new danger has appeared along with the fun of stepping up to the Triple-dog-dare challenge.

First: A Lesson Every Commercial Enterprise Can Learn From

Even if you have zero interest in “Truck Camping” or RV’s in general, this story is instructive for at least two reasons. First, the triple dog dare is an excellent example of an innovative way to get an industry’s attention, at least in cultures who understand its meaning. Second, it highlights the need to understand and utilize our customer’s ideas.

NOTE: We’re not suggesting that you use “the triple dog dare” to motivate your senior leaders. Just the thought of that scenario playing out makes us chuckle and wag our heads in a no-no. We are suggesting you might be well served to get beyond “they’re stupid, and they’ll never listen” to “What might be all of the ways to get them to listen?”

So, how might we optimize feedback from customers, our employees in the field, or our shareholders?

There are three steps to effectively using this feedback: 1) embrace the challenge, the human brain is a problem solving marvel, 2) use a creative problem solving methodology to identify the issues and formulate options and 3) manage your gator brain.  

1 – Understand and Embrace the Challenge

It is the human brain’s nature to solve problems. Like a successful business, the brain listens carefully to what its owner cares about, then sends an alert up through its “management chain” when a problem or opportunity arises. The more diversified the memories, experiences and competencies of that brain-trust, the more likely a workable solution will arise. The better the brain is at listening, the more likely it is to make the novel connections in the prefrontal cortex that we call a “creative thought.” If that creative thought lands on a brain management team prepared to nurture it, the creative thought can grow into a full-blown innovative solution. 

Dare-takers: The actual challenge is NOT to simply go out and use your product, or prove that you already do. What is it? Keep reading.

2 – Use a Creative Problem Solving Methodology

If you pick apart your personal creative problem solving thought process, you’ll see elements of the creative competency every human has access to. Every brain owner (you) reading this is curious, and listening or you’d be doing something else at this moment. Many of you are making novel connections from your thoughts, memories and experiences at this very moment. There are several methodologies which capture this process We find the most robust process in the Universal Creative Process.

Dare-takers: Understand the true goal and wish of your customers. Or don’t. There are consequences in either case.

3 – Manage Your Gator-brain

Sadly, some un-enlightened “brain management teams” kill ideas as quickly as they enter the brain’s awareness. At New & Improved, we call the unproductive pattern “Gator-brain thinking.” It is a counterproductive pattern of thinking, speaking and behaving that all brain owners (and business owners) must be vigilant for. Or it will kill progress. When we see this gator-brain thinking pattern, in ourselves or our organizations, we need to engage the wiser, more mature “executive function.”

And remember this:

Just because you have a neocortex that has the capability to override unproductive, gator-brain, innovation killing behaviors, there is no guarantee you will do so. It takes decisive vigilance to bring your most productive self out of the primitive survival pattern.

  1. Even though you might have the title “executive” at work, you are still a human being. You will lose the battle with your gator-brain, and lose the battle for share in your market, unless you create an organizational culture that can “speak truth to power” when you are behaving in a way that blocks innovation.

This might be part of the reason Truck Camper Magazine had to go so far in their quest to enhance the creative thinking patterns of the TC/RV manufacturers. Because creative thinking requires constant new learning. Humble curiosity speeds learning while arrogance slows it down. Know-it-alls end up being left on the dust-heap of history. There are no perfect people, or perfect business leaders. Failure is not optional. Learning from it is.

Dare-takers: You cannot “win” the challenge. You can only use it to learn. If… you are able to overcome your gator-brain.

Dare-takers: The Unspoken Secret Dare and Danger

As of this writing, Truck Camper magazine has announced that 5 camper manufacturing executives and decision makers have accepted the challenge. 

Is this everyone? Nope. You can bet there will be more dare-acceptors, eventually. Just like you and I, they’re busy people, who are building businesses, taking care of families and rarely have the luxury to get to it all.

To the executives and owners above, You are at risk. I have a warning. And an invitation… 

WARNING: There is a  secret dare beneath the spoken dare. There are two “mental pit traps” here. Each is filled with confirmation bias, the stickiest substance known to humankind. If you fall in, it can be impossible to get out. Your customers are throwing you a lifeline. Grab it.

Danger 1: If executives who are already using their company’s campers are the only ones who do this, then the customer base will likely think even more poorly of the executive leadership of the participating firms. Remember what precipitated this call-to-action. Put bluntly, the users of your products think that the only possible explanation for some of your poor quality issues and incomprehensible build decisions is that key decision makers don’t extensively use your products. If you convince them that you do, then why are you not implementing the customer-perceived obvious improvement needs? 

Pro-tip: Get some folks from your company who have never fully experienced the TC lifestyle to do so, and share the new insights they have for you.

Danger 2: If, as an industry executive, you already go out on these trips, get someone who does not currently use a TC from your company to do the same in their own rig. Do it in convoy if they are first timers. Show them, fully experiencing the load/unload, off-grid, shower-dump-fill cycle. Then map their experience and insights into new developments. Sure, keep these insights and developments quiet for a while as competitive advantage, but if customers see no proof of anything NEW & IMPROVED coming from experiential insights, your customer base will, to put it frankly, wonder how many times you got dropped on your head as a small child. 

Pro-tip: Be appreciative of your customers, their true intention to be helpful, and tell them/us stories of the improvements derived from a new insight prompted by acceptance of the Triple-Dog Dare. Wait, if you have to protect competitive advantage, but when the time is right,  be sure to link the new & improved product feature or quality method back to the insights garnered because of the collective efforts of your activist user base.

Triple-dog-pro-tip: If you don’t do so already, convene a user-group, key-opinion-leader conference/rendezvous at a different, unique, fun location around the continent each year. Utilize a well facilitated creative process to run a POINt Evaluation of your products to gain input to your innovation pipeline. What is a PoiNt Evaluation? We’re not talking focus groups here, but a full on creative problem solving session. Learn the difference if you don’t already know it. I asked attendees at the Truck Camper Adventure Rally how many of them would like to be a part of something like that, as a trained brain, for free. Just about every “maker” in the group raised their hand.

An Invitation

Let’s all work together to raise the bar. Not just for those of us in and around the recreational vehicle industry, but for all of us, everywhere, every day. Challenge yourself and those you influence to become ever-more humble, curious learners. As we do so, wherever we spend our time, we’ll solve problems better, more rapidly, and more permanently.

That is, until we find the next problem to solve and engage in the creative collaboration to do so. This exploration is on a meaning-filled path – leading in the direction of a well-lived life. There is a fork in the road ahead for us all. Take it. (with apologies to Yogi Berra)


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