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  • Writer's pictureLaura Burke - Coach

The Kano Model and Personal Development

I can’t remember where I first learned about the Kano model…

but I remember finding it really interesting and being amazed at how well it explained so many things! I also remember thinking it was a little depressing.

Allow me to geek out for a minute and then I’ll bring it back around – including a plot twist that puts a positive spin on this puppy. (Would you expect any different?)

If you’re not familiar with the Kano model, it is a theory created in the 1980s to describe customer satisfaction particularly as it relates to product development. Basically, it is a way of characterizing features to understand the impact they will have in the marketplace. But it is applicable much more broadly. The representation above is explained as the following...

The vertical axis is where we measure satisfaction. The higher up, the more satisfied. Go below the horizontal axis and the person is dissatisfied… the lower down, the more dissatisfied.

The horizontal axis is where we measure functionality, feature sophistication, implementation. The further to the right is increasing ‘implementation’ or functionality or features. The further to the left represents less implementation or even the absence of functionality.

Starting with the bottom red line labeled “Basic” – this represents basic needs that are essentially expectations. And no matter how great something is, if it is a basic need it is not going to provide us with real ‘satisfaction’ because it’s, well, expected. Consider a bed in a hotel. Can you imagine walking into a hotel room and exclaiming with delight “Wow! There is a bed in my room!” You may not even acknowledge the bed unless there was something special about it.

The middle yellow line labeled “Performance” represents standard desires. You can see that something that falls into this category can lead to greater or lesser levels of satisfaction depending on its implementation.

The top blue line represents what are referred to as “Exciters” or “Delighters.” You can see that even with the tiniest beginning of implementation (like, way to the left…) a customer is already experiencing some levels of satisfaction. Consider the excitement you can feel anticipating a movie that doesn’t even have a trailer yet – this is the idea of that blue line! And the more something is realized or implemented the levels of satisfaction can skyrocket.

The crux of the model is to understand that there is a nearly universal downward trajectory from the exciters category to the performance category… to the basic category. Meaning: something that once is super special fades to kind-of exciting… and eventually becomes an expectation. Consider the evolution of the telephone. When it was first invented it would have been an exciter, and anyone who had one was happy! Those with fancier ones may have been extremely pleased. Over time, having a telephone became pretty standard but perhaps incremental improvements that may lead to greater or lesser satisfaction. Over yet more time, having a phone (in the US, at least) became an expectation so this didn’t excite anyone anymore. Meanwhile, advancements were made that came through the same progression: The ability to call long distance. The introduction of the ‘hand held’ phone. Cell phones. Watches. Each of these started on the blue line and have fallen to the yellow, or even red line.

If felt to me that the Kano Model depicted a constant and insatiable human desire for more, for better … with interest and excitement that quickly fades. Viewing this from the negative side of the coin is what made me a little depressed when I first learned about it. The idea that people could never be truly satisfied with what they had. And I never really dissected this interpretation until recently. As I did, I realized two flaws in my thinking.

First, I had subconsciously associated the red line with a lack of gratitude. That may be true sometimes but not universally. While I may not walk into a hotel room and get giddy to see a bed – I can still be grateful for its existence! This “basic” category is a good reminder to be actively grateful for the small things.

Second, while there is a ‘dark’ side to continual pursuit of more – there is also a side that is of good intention for continual growth and positivity.

And here’s where the plot twist comes in!!

We can actually apply the Kano Model paradigm to our own personal growth journey in a way that allows us to continually improve, in a way that feels good and easy. We can implement small, incremental actions in our lives that initially are exciting and get a lot of attention. And if we ‘do it right’ (meaning, do it the way that serves our unique situation), these positive actions can become habit. Habit formation is the equivalent of falling to the yellow line. Eventually, these actions become non-negotiables – and that is the equivalent of falling to the red line.

Here's a personal illustration: I never used to pay much attention to drinking water. I didn’t really drink much else besides coffee – wasn’t a big soda or juice girl – but largely survived on coffee!! When I decided to start making sure I got enough water, I got new reusable bottles and devised a cool way to keep track of how many I drank each day. Getting at least 1 bottle (the far left of the blue line) made me feel good – physically and mentally. If I hit my target of 4 bottles, way more so! Eventually as this became ingrained in my life, there wasn’t as much self-congratulatory fanfare when I hit my target – but I could definitely feel it if I didn’t drink enough and perhaps a little bummed that I hadn’t done what I set out to do. Drinking water had fallen to my yellow line. Now, drinking tons of water is an ingrained part of how I live. You’ll rarely see me without my bottle! Getting enough water is on my red – basic – line. It’s an essential part of my day.

The beauty of this is 2-fold: First, it means I can have confidence that any new thing I want to incorporate in my life can become habit. Second, as things fall ‘down’ the lines it makes room for new things to land on my blue line so I can keep finding new ways to get just a little better!

I think this is a clever way of looking at things because it provides such an optimistic lens towards continual self-improvement in a way we can associate a visual with. Just ask, is this positive action on my blue, yellow or red line?

Here’s to something new landing on your blue line today.

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