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The Red Zone

| On 04, Oct 2009

Jack Hipple

What is the red zone? In American football over the past ten years it has come to mean the last 20 yards to go before a touchdown–the 20 yard line of the opposing team. Why is this important? Well, the defense gets a little more stingy and there’s less ground for the offense to spread out. The defense has less ground to cover and defend, theoretically making their job easier and the offense’s harder. The game becomes a little more exciting as a team gets closer to scoring or having to compromise for a field goal.


This past week, I saw an advertisement for one of the satellite dish packages for “red zone” football coverage. If you subscribe to one of their football packages, you are automatically alerted when some other game, that you are not currently watching, is in the “red zone,” just in case you want to switch and watch the other game. You don’t have to channel surf to see if there is another game more exciting than the one you’re watching. Interesting concept, isn’t it? The information that you need only comes to you when you need it.


In my last commentary, I mentioned the I-Report system that CNN is now using to have thousands of amateur reporters submit stories. Now this isn’t going to happen unless there is something of interest, so CNN can, to some extent, can relax a little in the need to send hundreds of reporters out in the field–when there is something of interest, it will come to them.How much time and money do we waste being constantly on “alert” for what we need or want? Where else have you seen this principle (information comes to you only when you need it) used? We now get alerts from airlines via our mobile devices when a plane is delayed. We get coupons Emailed to us from vendors based on what they know we buy. Where else might this “information only when we need it” principle be used in innovation, from the standpoint of both customer and supplier?


Let’s say you are a user of a supplied part from another company. Most of the time you’re probably talking about price. Do you have a mechanism for supplying to your supplier critical change in specifications or need on a moment’s notice? If you are the supplier, what mechanism have you provided to assist your customer in doing this? Even in pricing, we see Orbitz automatically issuing refund checks when another customer books the same reservation at a lower cost. The customer doesn’t have to go looking for the information–it comes to him automatically.


In your own internal operations, what mechanisms do you have in place to let your employees know of a sudden change in the organization’s business? A customer’s critical need? What mechanisms do you have in place to instantly find out what personnel issues or rumors might be of concern to your employees? Not a suggestion box–something pro-active that alerts you instantly so that you can be supportive and empathetic.What information do you need? When do you need it? How can you get it only when you need it? How would your business change if this was possible? Are you surprised by competitor innovations? How could you find out what their plans are? What are their patent filings? Where are their people showing up at meetings? Who are they talking to? About what? Don’t wait for the information to come to you–at that point it’s a touchdown; you want to know when someone else is in the “red zone”.