Have you ever felt surrounded by stupidity?  You know, customers who complain the product doesn’t work when it turns out they never plugged it in?  Or suppliers who send you cryptic instructions that leave out critical information?

You’re not alone. (At least based on my unscientific poll and many cocktail conversations at conferences around the world.) 

Noticing Stupidity Is a Gift
You may groan every time you’re confronted with an example of idiocy.  Whether the "stupidity" is by your customers or suppliers doesn't seem to matter.  But, take Forrest Gump’s wisdom to heart and see it as an opportunity instead. 

See, your customers and suppliers actually have more or less the same IQ as you do.  What you see as a sign of their mental elevator not going to the top floor is, in reality, a clear opportunity for you.  Let me explain with an example from my own company, Hillcrest Labs.

Hidden Opportunity in “Stupid” Datasheets
The majority of Hillcrest's business involves creating sensor processing software for MEMS devices.  We’ve been doing this longer than some MEMS companies (e.g., Invensense) have been in business.  Doing our job well requires, of course, mastery of signal processing and embedded programming.  Yet, that's not enough. We also need to understand the detailed behavior of the MEMS devices themselves.  It’s the latter point that the MEMS suppliers make difficult.

From the beginning, the MEMS datasheets from the sensor manufacturers have been a disappointment.  The datasheets often don’t contain specs on all the relevant parameters. Then, for the parameters that are there, they often just give typical values.  I’ve spoken and given talks on this before so my comment won’t be news to the MEMS companies out there.  For serious sensor processing design, the MEMS datasheets are inadequate.  Designers need to know the min’s and max’s of the relevant parameters.  Designing a system without that knowledge invites wide variations in performance.  That is not something we want to deliver to our customers.

These MEMS sensor datasheet deficiencies were, from my perspective, “stupid”.  At first, it was just the source of grumbling and whining over beers.  The problem was that, while the beers were good,  my whining wasn’t satisfying at all.  So we decided to take action.

The action started by noting that the MEMS engineers are definitely not stupid.  I know many of the engineers who work at MEMS sensor companies and they are all quite intelligent and competent.  There is no way that they could be called “stupid”.  But even if I could rationalize calling them “stupid”, that didn't solve the problem.  The truth is that, hidden in this stupidity, there was great opportunity.

Those “Stupid” Datasheets Led to One of Hillcrest’s Strongest Value Propositions
Forrest Gump was right.  It's what you do that matters. In this context, we identified gaps and deficiencies in the datasheets.  If we had done nothing about that except cry in our beer, we would be the “stupid” ones.  Realizing that, we set out to create our own complete datasheets.

We spent millions of dollars in Engineering effort and many years to create a robust Sensor Qualification Test System.  It collects the full set of parameters we need. It also characterizes the distribution of each of those parameters independently.  We also designed and built a full simulation and reporting system.  This simulation system allows us to understand how our algorithms will perform in the field, in production runs of millions of units.

This whole system represented lots of work that, initially, we thought was “stupid”.  But the resulting system is so good that we’ve actually had MEMS sensor companies pay us to run their own parts through it!  It’s also one of the things that most impress our customers.

In effect, the “stupidity” we identified turned into a strong value we deliver our customers.

Follow Forrest Gump to Success
So the next time you begin to comment on the stupidity of others, stop.  Remember Forrest Gump.  Those customers and suppliers are just as bright as you.  That “stupidity” you’re noting is just a gap that needs to be filled.  With at least some of those gaps, there is real business value to be had by filling them.

A quick request to our readers: Hillcrest was one of the earliest users of MEMS sensors for consumer electronics. We are a leading independent sensor processing software vendor. We also approach everything with an eye to the user experience, because we believe that is the real end-product the consumer buys. In this column, we will write about news and trends we find interesting, relevant and important. However, we’d really love to hear what you’d like us to write about. Do you have questions, concerns, or a controversial opinion that you’d like to see addressed in this column? Let us know in the comments or by email.