RDE evolved from other breeds of experimentation because companies recognized the nature of their competitive environment, knew that they had to be "better," and began to recognize the value of disciplined development. When a few years ago Hewlett-Packard faced a sustained erosion of its position in the market, despite the fact that its products were comparable or even superior to what its rivals offered, management decided to rethink the marketing strategy and build a decision-making structure based on evidence. In a sense, RDE helped turn around Hewlett-Packard. (See Chapter 1, "Hewlett-Packard Shifts Gears," for details about the sustained use of RDE in high-tech companies such as HP.) When the goal was to create a better pasta sauce (as with Campbell Soup with its Prego), a good RDE strategy systematically explored the ingredient factors that made pasta sauce better, and soon afterward created a significantly better sauce. (Chapters 2, "Maxwell House's Calculus of Coffee," and 3, "Dialing Up Delicious: Major Discoveries fromVlasic and Prego," show several great examples of RDE use by major food companies.) When the very difficult goal was to create messaging for a better Playtex tampon so women would feel safe and discreet, that, too, was grist for RDE, which optimized the messages every bit as easily as it handled, say, the messaging for computers, credit cards, or cars. (Explore Chapter 4, "How to Make People Feel Good Even When They Pay More," for RDE use in message optimization.) When the goal was to create better package designs that jumped off the shelf for Swanson frozen dinners, RDE was beginning to be accepted in that world of design and did its job, again with a clear increase in sales. (Chapter 7, "Bridging Cool Design with Hot Science," demonstrates RDE use for package and magazine cover designs.) Of course, no one would ever claim that experimentation could replace artistry in design, in communication, or even in the technicalities of product creation. It was just that RDE systematized the process of discovery and development.
What about sustained innovation, political and social areas, and the stock market? RDE found its home there as well (see Chapters 6, "Rubik's Cube of Consumer Electronics Innovation"; 10, "RDE Defeats Murphy's Law and 'Bares' the Stock Markets"; and 11, "Asia Calling, Ltd.: The China Angle," correspondingly).
Sounds good, but shouldn't one have a triple Ph.D. in statistics, psychology, and social studies to use RDE? And be versed in long formulas with Greek letters? Perhaps, in the early days, but not recently. Now the answer is "Not at all."
At one time, to drive a car, you needed to intimately know the engine, transmission, and all those complex things under the hood and below the floorboards—and you were expected to fix your car yourself. With time, more people had to drive, and the cars evolved into something easy to use (albeit, much more technologically sophisticated). This, by itself, allowed even more people to drive. How many drivers on the road now even know where the transmission is located? The same is happening to RDE. Something invented and designed by the most educated people in the industry is now ready to be used by any businessperson with the same ease that today's personal computer can be used. More companies have used RDE on a sustained basis to survive and overpower their brutal competition. This need for RDE enticed the development of new tools that made it easier. In turn, RDE became easier to use, and often with a lot of fun. Applying Malcolm Gladwell's metaphor,6 RDE is now reaching a tipping point.