the need for the design of a new sensor to measure something of interest) or related to a process or business (for example, the need for an approach to obtain up-to-date information from stakeholders). Once an opportunity has been identified and analyzed, an understanding of desired customer outcomes is needed to create innovative solutions.
Understanding desired outcomes goes well beyond simply talking to customers; it includes putting oneself in the clients’ shoes to separate what they say they want from what they want. A common mistake in trying to innovate is to substitute desired producer outcomes for desired customer outcomes. While EPA is in a different position from product manufacturers, only by understanding why customers are purchasing products can the agency help promote creative solutions. One example is the development of alternative plasticizers for polyvinyl chloride plastics rather than alternative materials that do not require plasticizers. Another example is the creation of less toxic flame retardants rather than creation of an inherently flame-retardant fabric or even consideration of whether flame retardancy is needed for a particular part or product. Insightful, unbiased determination of desired customer outcomes is crucial for proper support of innovation.
An innovative means of defining desired customer outcomes is ethnography, hypothesis-free observation of customers in their “natural habitats”. The technique, pioneered by such design firms as IDEO (Palo Alto, CA), has produced a number of insights into consumer behavior that have been translated into successful products. For EPA, the analogue of ethnography is the willingness of staff to visit their “customers” (for example, industry, the general public, or even specific EPA regional offices or laboratories) to see technology or science needs, to see where current regulations or prescribed methods cause people to struggle to conform, or to see where regulations create perverse results. An example of the benefits of observing customer needs is the design of the copying machine. In the 1970s, Xerox used anthropology graduate student Lucy Such-man to observe how users interacted with their copying machines. Suchman created a video showing senior computer scientists at Xerox struggling to make double-sided copies with their own machines. Surprising ethnographic results like that have led to a host of innovative alterations in office equipment that render the user experience much more productive (Suchman 1983). While direct observation of this sort may be unusual for a regulatory agency, similar observational activities by EPA might lead to insights regarding how consumer products are actually used (informing exposure models) or whether responses to specific regulations have unintended consequences that could be readily addressed.
In business, innovation is a catalyst for growth. Business innovation involves the development of ideas or inventions and their translation to the commercial sphere. Innovation results in rapid (favorable) change in market size, market share, sales, or profit through the introduction of new products, processes, or services. Those are clear outcomes that are relatively easy to measure. In an agency like EPA, innovation plays a different role but one that is no less important for the success of the agency in achieving its mission, adapting to