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Making Yourself "Customer For A Day" Is Just Common Sense

"The power of design" (Cover Story, May 17) led off with a glowing description of how IDEO helped Kaiser Permanente come up "with some surprising insights" about the nature of their patients' experience in Kaiser's medical offices and hospitals. These insights, and the others that Warnaco Group Inc. (WRNC) and AT&T Wireless (AWE) found, are surprising only to businesspeople who have never taken the effort to view their products and services from their customers' perspective. Far from being "surprising," these insights are common complaints among consumers. IDEO deserves credit for the innovative and creative nature of their solutions. What's mind-boggling is that it takes an outside consulting firm to convince major corporations of the importance of finding out firsthand what it's like to use their products and services.

Brock B. Bernstein

Ojai, Calif.

Your readers should know that the strategic use of customer-experience design predates IDEO. Design Consortium has been quietly practicing design around the customer experience since 1985. Two early examples: For Apple Computer Inc. (AAPL), our Product Value Matrix process accurately predicted the actual market performance of the new PowerBook and competitive notebook computers in 1990 and 1991, as cited in your magazine for an Industrial Design Excellence Award in 1992. In the mid-1990s, a customer-experience-based redesign produced a greater-than-3,000% jump in yearly sales for Holiday Rambler's Endeavor line of motor homes.

Ronald J. Sears, President

Design Consortium

Worthington, Ohio

The coincidence of BusinessWeek's (MHP) "Power of Design" Cover Story and (in the same issue) your choice of Walt Disney as one of the 75th anniversary "Great Innovators" ("He built a better mouse," May 17) illustrates a powerful business lesson: When customer experience is at the core of a business strategy, distinctive and sustainable value follows.

Walt Disney was a pioneer of engineered customer experiences. Today, firms such as IDEO are creating differentiation and value with a similar philosophy -- by ensuring that customer experiences are at the core of product design, innovation, and corporate-delivery strategies. Unfortunately, the power and promise of [customer] experience remains an abstract and untapped value for most companies. But a growing number of forward-thinking ones are finding innovative solutions by adopting these exciting new competencies and tools.

Lewis P. Carbone

Founder and Chief Experience Officer

Experience Engineering Inc.


Imagine my surprise when I opened Michael J. Mandel's "In praise of heady growth" (Book Excerpt, May 17) and found a photo of me leading the rogues' gallery of economists who allegedly belittle the role of technological change. While the company was good -- Martin Feldstein, Paul Krugman, and N. Gregory Mankiw -- the message was completely wrong. The truth is that economists have been emphasizing the role of technology as a driver of growth for at least 50 years, arguably ever since Adam Smith.

I tracked down the two "anti-technology" quotes attributed to me. The first is from a 1997 magazine article wondering why the information-technology miracle had not yet registered an impact on productivity, as it should have. The statement came exactly one paragraph after I had recommended the economist's standard litany of pro-technology policies: education, training, and expenditures on research and development. The second quote is from my introductory textbook (co-authored with William J. Baumol) -- ironically, from a chapter extolling the central role of innovation in growth!

In sum, I do not "downplay the role of technological change," and I doubt that my three colleagues do, either.

Alan S. Blinder

Princeton University

Princeton, N.J.

Imagine where our country would be if we redirected the Iraq war resources -- investing $65 billion per annum into alternate fuels, for example, and employing 150,000 scientists instead of soldiers. Couple that with an additional fuel tax to encourage conservation (offset with a commensurate income-tax cut), and we would eradicate our dependency on the Middle East for oil.

Arab countries would then be forced to move from being oil-endowed economies to meritocracies.

Mr. Mandel, you have the right agenda. How about running for President?

Randy R. Williams

New York

I read with trepidation the reasoning of economists with regard to what contributes to productivity growth. Until now, I had looked on economists as lightning rods and as pacesetters in economic growth and related ideas.

Either they willingly choose to ignore the productivity gains occasioned by technological innovation -- even of some simple machines such as the electric typewriter -- or they have ganged up to rebel against the truth. Such rebellions should not go unpunished since they would be consigning us to the primitive level of the caveman.

Kudos to Michael J. Mandel for his magnanimous representation of the economist as the "unintentional enemy of growth." The technologist is an angel.

E.O. Essang

Lagos, Nigeria

Re "shaking the timbers of the House of Saud" (International Outlook, May 17): We did strongly urge Americans to depart Saudi Arabia at a May 4 meeting of the Overseas Security Advisory Council, as we have been doing since Apr. 15, when the State Dept. published a notice to this effect. But no one from the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh is resorting to profanity to make this point. Before you quote a security officer or other American diplomat, please check with us to find out what we really said before going to "unprintable."

Carol R. Kalin

Counselor for Public Affairs

U.S. Embassy

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Re "a bittersweet birthday" (Social Issues, May 17): I agree that "Poor children...often come to school with far more personal problems." However, I greatly disagree that "poor schools are more likely to get inferior teachers." I work incredibly hard, push my students to achieve more every day, and maximize my teaching time. Yet discipline issues, attendance problems, lack of parental support, missing resources, inferior textbooks, and misuse of funding contribute to the achievement gap.

Our nation should work to ensure that poverty is not the reason children receive an inferior education and to equalize resources no matter the wealth of the community. Equality does not mean equal. It may take putting extra money and time into failing schools to close the achievement gap.

Laura A. Henderson

Teacher, Atlanta Public Schools

Hoschton, Ga.

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