Find the Right Tool

Different tools do different tasks and what works well for one may not be best for another.

The Ankarsrum is, depending upon which review is believed, a really expensive but mediocre mixer or the mother of all mixers and totally worth the price. Unlike the Kitchen Aid and countless knockoffs, the Swedish mixer rotates the bowl which forces whatever is inside through a series of rollers. For doing things like whipping egg whites, there’s a plastic bowl with some beaters that looked jerry-rigged which they probably are.

There’s an easy explanation for the split reviews and the higher price tag: the Ankarsrum is what the French refer to as a Pétrin, a machine that kneads heavy dough. It has a specific purpose including a heavy-duty motor to match that purpose. Baguettes, pizza, and bagels will come out great in the Ankarstrum where they’ll break the internals of a Kitchen Aid.

However, the Kitchen Aid is what the French call a Robot Pâtissier. As the name implies, its primary purpose is to make pastries, not dough. It’s great at whipping up eggs, cake batter, and all manner of other delicious fattening stuff. There’s a bread hook on it but for the cook who tries traditional heavy doughs, they’ll be disappointed or break their machine.

It’s not that the Ankarstrum is better than the Kitchen Aid or vice-versa; they’re different tools. Sure, you can use one of the jerry-rigged attachments to force the Ankarstrum to do what the Kitchen Aid does, and you can try to make traditional pizza dough in the Kitchen Aid, but soon or later — and, based on countless reviews, probably sooner — you’ll be disappointed.

I just released an exercise/case study that explores the difference between technology innovation and value innovation. I don’t normally pitch stuff for my day job at the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute but, if you’re doing work with any firm that’s technology-focused, as many are, I’d strongly recommend it. Of course, there is one important point not there: sometimes it is necessary to focus on engineering, on technology innovation, because a specific task requires it.

We obviously need architects to make buildings that will not leak or collapse. We also want them to be aesthetically pleasing, environmentally efficient, and comfortable to work or live in. A good building will appeal to buyers and nonbuyers. A great builder will build buildings that make competing buildings irrelevant. But, at some point, those buildings must neither collapse, burn down, have their pipes freeze, nor do countless other things that a poorly engineered building might do. The engineering component of an architect is largely invisible unless it is not.

Similarly, there are countless aspects of developing a product or service that aren’t really strategic ideation but are focused on constraints beyond buyer demand. After all, if we could suspend gravity and create a flying car that used no fuel we’d surely sell a lot of units. But deep-diving into this is probably pretty pointless because it’s not going to happen.

Engineering methodologies, like six sigma, may be great for creating engineered products. Nobody wants their stuff to have manufacturing defects, after all. Strategic ideation methodologies, like blue ocean strategy, are similarly great for ideating products and services that customers and noncustomers actually want but aren’t especially good for, say, ensuring the building complies with electrical code.

Both methodologies, like my two types of mixers, were built for a specific purpose. Like the mixers, they can be jerry-rigged for a different purpose and that may even work. However, also like the mixers, it’s really best to focus on what they’re meant to do. Want to mix up some baguette dough? Use the Ankarstrum. How about a batch of croissant dough or a cake? Time to pull out the Kitchen Aid. It’s not that either is better than the other. Rather, they’re engineered for a specific purpose.

I research, write about, consult, and teach blue ocean strategy. I’m a fan and have been for two decades now, since I started using the methodology in the workplace and met the authors of the book (back then, a series of HBR articles). Still, people shouldn’t use blue ocean strategy to conform to the fire code; it’s not made for that and won’t work. Similarly, you shouldn’t use six sigma or any of the alternatives to develop a business strategy: no matter what your six-sigma consultant may say, it’s not made for that.

Use blue ocean strategy to create a product or service and unlock a blue ocean. Then use six sigma or whatever else to make sure every one of those products that rolls off the assembly line, through the app store, or out of the kitchen is the highest quality possible. These frameworks work together; there’s no need to pick and choose.