High Tech Strategies At Samsung

Insight into some of the high-tech strategies deployed at Samsung.


When some people use the term ‘innovation’ it is often confusing. It’s become such a common utterance in the tech-world that many of us see it as some sort of code used by companies like Apple and Google when they’re coming up with ideas, or a free pass used when an official is quizzed on something that he has little knowledge on.

“People are bored of the term innovation,” says Luke Mansfield, Head of Product Innovation at Samsung. Buzzwords like it, for some, have become tedious, but is its slow slide into indifference actually a result of us not opening our eyes to good innovation? Luke claims “There’s too much bad innovation that gets all the press” so perhaps it’s more that we get side tracked into believing that innovation is a hindrance rather than a competitive advantage.

Innovators frequently tout ‘Creative destruction’ through innovation, as an important force, but as Luke says; “Nobody wants destruction, especially if you’re the person who has to destroy a million dollar investment, you’d rather someone else does it”. Although innovators readily embrace creative destruction, they hope and pray the responsibility doesn’t fall at their feet.

This is understandable, especially when consumer reports come out all the time informing us that the “world hasn’t changed that much” and that although some of the findings are noteworthy they only ever evoke interest, not a desire to go into work the following day and destruct your company’s processes. Often this isn’t due to a lack of enthusiasm on behalf of the employees but because there just isn’t enough time to react. Luke says “people don’t want to destruct because according to the reports the world hasn’t changed that much, so why should I change the way I work if I don’t need to?”

Experimentation is often deemed the crux of innovation, as by its very definition it’s about finding something new from experimenting with existing components. For these innovations to be enduring they must be conducted on a level playing field where bias doesn’t distort reality.

Unfortunately, experiments that don’t distort reality are hard to come by. Luke refers to the Milgram experiments in 1963 where subject’s ability to conform to authority was tested by them administering electric shocks to people when they answered a question incorrectly. The power of these electric shocks would progressively get worse and worse until they reached 450 volts, a potentially fatal dosage.

The findings showed that 30% of the subjects were willing to administer 450 volts – which on the face of it is shocking. Fortunately, the retro-analysis was far more interesting as it showed that by its very nature the experiment was inherently biased.

Luke asked the people in the audience to put their hands up if they would have liked to have taken part in the experiment – one person puts his hand up. Luke goes on to say “You’ve basically, through the very design of your experiment, selected for sadist’s” which turns the result on its head, as it’s now actually quite surprising that only 30% administered the electric shock.

These types of biases are commonplace with consumer-based research techniques. If you were to ask your next focus group how many of them had taken part in something similar, chances are most of them would put their hand up, according to Luke, this is when they cease to be useful as they’re not normal consumers, they’re on the lookout for faults and fail to see a company’s products through unbiased eyes.

“In the corporate world we get one shot, in academia you can have 24” says Luke. There is no room for failure, and the notion of ‘embracing failure’ doesn’t sit well with Luke. If something fails, it can take years for it to be up for consideration again and poor research can be the catalyst for this, turning a good idea into a disaster.

Getting innovation up and running in a tech company is about processes and experience. Often people get hung up on processes as they have a financial value, but for Luke experience is what counts. You need people that know and understand innovation and people who can spot it throughout a number of industries. Finding these types of people is like looking for a needle in a haystack, and incredibly expensive.

That’s why the answer lies in data. “At Samsung we don’t like the term Big Data,” says Luke. Value is not in quantity but in quality, if a dataset is large, then chances are it is not exclusive and unlikely to garner innovative responses. It’s about piecing together unique sets of DNA that offer up serious opportunities for innovators.

There are now three different ways in which data is used at Samsung to foster innovation. “We’ve stopped talking about consumer research and we’ve started talking about consumer experiments” – this is done by using the tools of consumer psychology. This allows them to take the most seasoned researcher and get unbiased results – there are three methods; deprive, substitute and saturate. Chances are one of them will play havoc with their researchers lives.

Take saturate for instance, you give somebody with a large family three washing machines instead of one, it’ll give them back about 20 hours per week, that’s a tangible benefit that sells products. Samsung did a similar experiment with their new smartphone, but this time using the substitution method. They took away the modern smartphone and exchanged it with a feature phone. One uniform response came back; the battery life on the older models was much better. After getting these results, Samsung incorporated an “ultra power save mode” which gives you 24 hours extended battery life when there is 10% left.

When testing concepts companies need to do more to walk their customers through the process and allow them to ask questions. If these questions are answered and yield a positive response, then through data, Samsung can determine where they need to improve.

After a product has been launched, Samsung measure the ways people are engaging with it. There are patterns for successful products and less successful one’s. When the results of Samsung’s strategic experiments are laid out like this it makes the innovation ‘pill’ easier to swallow for investors as they have a clear indication of how the product is going to fair in the market.

Samsung are looking at new ways they can use research to be innovative. They pay a lot of attention to getting unbiased results and have disrupted their research process significantly. Through the eyes of the people at Samsung ‘innovation’ is not a null point, it just needs to be reassessed and delivered differently, especially in the tech industry where change is so rife and constant. One sure thing is that innovation is still a part of tech’s leading star’s strategy.

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