March 6, 2013

Why Steve Jobs Never Listened to His Customers

Why Steve Jobs Never Listened to His Customers
It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them."
— Steve Jobs

This quote became legendary as one of the most famous opinions from a highly opinionated man. Regardless of your personal opinion on this statement, it is remembered by so many because of the bold implications that Jobs makes about customer feedback.

Forbes called the quote ”a dangerous lesson.“ Even as someone who has presented ample research that customers can and do inspire innovation across multiple industries, I’m here to tell you that I sometimes agree with Steve Jobs’ sentiments.

Today we are going to look at a few split opinions on the sentiment of Jobs' quote, comparing the merits of focusing on internal innovation versus the insights to be gained from customer feedback.

Let’s take a look...

The Benefits of Sheltered Innovation

Multiple studies have shown that individuals have a tendency to produce the most novel ideas when working alone (as opposed to crowdsourcing ideas from an external group).

But can this focus on the internal creativity of teams really have a place in the business world? Should customers be ignored?

Mario D'Amico headshotMario D’Amico

According to Mario D’Amico, senior VP of marketing at Cirque du Soleil, the answer is, well, maybe.

In a 2012 theoretical case study published in the Harvard Business Review, D’Amico was asked what he would do about implementing customer surveys and feedback if he were in charge of a world-class dance troupe of traveling performers.

The scenario posed to D’Amico was this: A new marketing executive to the dance troupe wants to implement customer surveys in order to find out what customers want in upcoming shows. She rationalizes that knowing what customers want to see will help the company expand in the coming years.

In this case study, the theoretical company founder made a point that most CEOs in innovative industries tend to argue:

Why do we want to ask what our audience thinks?
We don’t care what they think.

How can people tell you what they want if they haven’t seen it before? If we ask them what they want, we’ll end up doing Swan Lake every year!”

Does customer feedback take a backseat when innovation is the primary objective? Can customers know what they want in industries where the most successful companies are successful because they push boundaries and do the unexpected?

D’Amico, as a marketing director for a company that thrives on creativity and pushing the envelope (read more about Cirque du Soleil), has a surprisingly balanced take on the issue.

First, he empathizes with the creatives as well as the founder of the company, who claim that the company’s core mission (and the reason for their success) is founded on doing what no customer expects them to do:

Any innovative company struggles with how much to listen to customers. Most realize that you cannot trust them to tell you what your next new product will be.”

D’Amico argues that not only are creative people not fond of excessive parameters and feedback (and research has shown that external restrictions often kill creativity), but he also makes the point that in fields where companies thrive on innovation, placing too much emphasis on what customers want destroys a company’s ability to be different.

Apple’s competitive edge, he and others argue, is that they have been able to avoid the “sameness trap.” When you rely on consumer input, it is inevitable that they will tell you to do what other popular companies are doing.

How can you get ahead of the curve if your customer feedback mostly consists of today’s popular ideas?

To answer this question, we must first look at whether customer feedback is a valuable resource at all.

Do Customers Really Know What They Want?

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."
–Henry Ford

A few weeks ago, when I wrote about how to implement smarter customer feedback systems, we touched on some of the data that shows customers face certain problems when they are asked to predict what they will want or use.

  • Problem #1: As revealed in this research by management consultant Mark Healy, customers can be terrible at predicting their future intentions when asked via a survey or a similar form of feedback. This means that even though they may be responding truthfully, their future actions won’t always match their responses.
  • Problem #2: No matter what businesses do to strengthen their survey methodology, sometimes customers are just going to lie in their responses.

In light of the case for innovation at the individual level, the problems with predicting customers’ intentions, and the potential lack of honesty in customer feedback … is there any point to listening to customers?

You’re likely unsurprised to hear that my opinion is yes, but it’s notable that D’Amico agrees as well.

If the directors are smart, they’ll approve the idea of surveying customers. We use data to brief the members of our creative team, to help them understand who’s applauding when the curtain goes down.

We don’t tell them to use a red dress or a blue dress or [what to do] in a certain scene, but we do educate them. Then we get out of their way so that they can create.

This statement has some significant implications, given that its source is a marketing director from a company that depends upon its creativity and pushing the envelope.

The takeaway: Customers can offer valuable insights for business. It’s worth considering that the business that is at fault when the feedback is generic and carries limited utility.

D’Amico and many others have made some subtle jabs at those who seem to be drinking the Jobs’ Kool-Aid, structuring business practices around quotes and Apple policies that may not be the best fit for their company.

What worked for Steve Jobs may not work for your company.

You Are Not Steve Jobs

So, was Jobs right or not?

Many respected entrepreneurs would say that yes, he was right ... but only for the extremely unconventional and circumstantial situation that his company was in.

When the products that your company produces are so pivotal as to be creating or redefining their product categories, and your insights are backed up with an enormously expensive creative process populated by world-class designers, then yes, you’re making the right choice by following Jobs’ lead and ignoring the customer feedback pipeline.

If customers were asked to improve the music listening experience back in a day where CD players ruled, they likely couldn’t have envisioned the iPod. But then again, you probably aren’t producing the next iPod.

But the Jobs method cannot apply across the board to all companies, which becomes pretty apparent when analyzing the results of Apple practices being employed at less similar companies.

Ron Johnson headshotRon Johnson

Take for instance Ron Johnson, former VP of retail operations at Apple and the current CEO at J.C. Penny. After Johnson came on board and reformed operations at J.C. Penny, company sales dropped by double-digit percentages and stock plummeted over 40 percent.

One of the most ambitious parts of Johnson’s overhaul, the discontinuing of discounts, was questioned by colleagues who wanted to consult with customers (and gather feedback) about the new changes before implementing them.

When asked why he bristled at his peers’ suggestion, Johnson responded,

We didn't test at Apple.”

Johnson’s singular rationale did not sit well with employees or others with a vested interest in the company.

Many people close to the company said Mr. Johnson ignored conventional industry wisdom and moved too abruptly to impose practices inspired by his time at Apple.

J.C. Penny is obviously a far different beast than Apple when it comes innovation. However, this situation doesn’t have to be an either/or. We’ve seen how the executive at Cirque du Soleil, another highly creative industry, has stated that understanding your customers’ wants is a pivotal part of growing your business—but doesn’t have to restrict your innovation.

If Jobs’ situation at Apple was indeed a one-in-a-million example, how can other highly innovative companies implement smarter ways to find out what their customers want without sacrificing their ability to innovate? How can they fight the “sameness trap” while getting a better handle on what customers expect?

The answers to these questions are surprisingly simple: Find out what customers want without directly asking them.

In continuing with the example of a genre-defining dance troupe, it’s obvious that asking customers exactly what they want could result in generic answers and end up stifling creativity.

So, don’t ask that! Far more important avenues of questioning are:

  • What sort of things move customers emotionally
  • Which shows they had trouble understanding, and
  • What elements of shows had the strongest lasting impact.
Throw in some demographic questions to analyze who Cirque’s customers are, and you’re well on your way to a peek at customer expectations and insights—all without resorting to telling your creatives to “go with the red dress instead of the blue one.”

If you find out that shows over four hours tend to lose a huge majority of your audience and lessen the impact, you can implement this feedback into your creative process without doing “Swan Lake” every week!

We discussed in a previous post how to implement specific techniques like this, including the “What Are You Struggling With” question, a method that small businesses can use to ask their customers (via email) what problems are bugging them the most.

This is just one method that can be used to find out what keeps people up at night without specifically asking them for feature requests, what content they’d like to see, or what move the company should make next.

With these types of goals in mind, companies can avoid the pitfall of trying to emulate Jobs in ways their business simply isn’t equipped to carry out, while also gathering valuable data about their customers that doesn’t jeopardize their creative process.

This Debate Ends with YOU

This discussion couldn’t possibly be complete without your voice.

Given what you’ve read above, I really want to hear your thoughts on the following points:

  1. Do you think Jobs had the correct stance on customer feedback for Apple? How broadly can that sort of thinking apply to other innovative companies?
  2. What’s the ideal balance between customer feedback and innovation? How closely do you monitor your customers’ thoughts for product ideas and new features?

My take on the topic: Jobs’ advice has limited application (e.g., not every business should try this at home), but there is a lot of insight to be gained from his words, particularly in regards to not drowning out your own innovative ideas with customer feedback gathered from poorly framed questions.

But enough about what I think ... What’s your opinion?

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Written by Gregory Ciotti Greg ciotti

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39 Comments

Ken Mar 6

"If I asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse." - Henry Ford

Customers don't drive innovation. Engineers do.

Wayne Mar 6

Steve jobs didn't invent the mouse or graphical user interface. He did popularize them.

I'd like to point out a small but significant editing issue in the post. It starts with this: "...individuals have a tendency to produce the most novel ideas when working alone...". In the next paragraph, this statement is deformed.

"...But can this focus on the internal creativity of teams really have a place in the business world? Should customers be ignored?..."

Notice that individuals are not equivalent to teams. Notice that the studies that support the creativity of individuals working alone do not imply the trade-off expressed in the second statement.

The most effective software team is a single programmer writing code for his or her own use. It may be creative. It may be clever. It may be brute force. But the programmer is the customer.

The best tools in the modern machine shop were all invented by machinists.

Now let's return to Mr. Jobs' quote: "It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them." He's talking, like Henry Ford, about something the general population of customers cannot come up with on their own. They don't have the technical context to realize what's possible. They may not have the emotional motivation to consider that there may be better ways; such better ways may threaten their jobs in their minds.

But both Mr. Ford and Mr. Jobs understood very well the needs of their customers. Customers need convenience, status, and an advantage over others (cars and computers). Customers need entertainment and inspiration (Cirque du Soliel, car races, computers).

Customers won't usually tell you that they need status or inspiration or competitive advantage, yet that drives their lives, from the college they attend to where they work and sometimes even who they marry.

Some of the ugliest aircraft designs came out of design committees. Design insight may be one of the more difficult things to articulate externally. Talking through design decisions may break the mind out of its creative focus because words are an arbitrary boundary not necessarily conducive to design manipulation. A pencil and paper are much better for the designer, but even they may not convey the idea to another designer.

Design is really hard. Design by committee may amplify the difficulties. Design by focus group? No.

Focus groups can help you discover and understand a specific need. What do White-Out, Post-Its, masking tape, automatic saving of digital files have in common?

harmlessdrudge Mar 6

Confidence, even arrogance, and vision have their place. The idea that there is a choice as to whether to listen to customers or not depends on what you're trying to do.

I gave my mother an iPad mini recently and have had the somtimes painful experience of trying to provide support over the phone for a device I couldn't see.

Today she called because it wanted a password and it wouldn't accept her iCloud password, even though it was correct. I had run an update to iOS a few days ago. Now she was locked out of the device. I spend some excruciating time on the phone with her getting nowhere. It was also painful for her. I discovered later that others had also had this problem and that she needed to delete her iCloud account and re-enter the credentials. I called to tell her and she told me that she'd put the device in the mail, sending it back to me. She'd completely lost confidence.

I can't think of a worse customer experience.

No focus groups needed.

Fuzzy Jones Mar 6

Steve Jobs was a shmuck who held Apple back in all the wrong ways. Too bad someone with some huevos never stepped in to say "enough's enough" and rescue Apple from its 1990's way of doing things.

-z

Ben Mar 6

"Fuzzy Jones: Steve Jobs was a shmuck who held Apple back in all the wrong ways. Too bad someone with some huevos never stepped in to say "enough's enough" and rescue Apple from its 1990's way of doing things."

You mean like Steve Jobs when he returned to Apple in 1996 and literally saved Apple from its 1990's way of doing things?

jay Mar 6

If you don't know your customer's pain and you don't ask them if your concept will help them but you think you are smarter than they are, you can be terribly wrong,waste month and time.

The Lean Startup concept invites you to imagine your target customer, have an idea of what their pain is, and create assumptions that might solve their problem. Then you have to physically find and interview them. You will have pleanty of "Aha!" moments ... and learn how wrong your thinking is. Then you pivot and try other assumptions out.

This can save starups months of figuring their product out.

By the time you've validated your assumptions you DO HAVE A PRODUCT that people want.

Gregory Ciotti Mar 6

@Ben — I think he was being sarcastic. :)

Barry Feldman Mar 6

Mr Fuzzy,
What a crazy response. A schmuck who help Apple back? Are we talking about the same Apple. The company that made computers and devices that changed the world were led by a visionary named Jobs. WTF.

Gregory, you know the answer to the questions you've posed. You have to listen to your customers, but you can't innovate by following them. You have to follow your passion just as Jobs did. The visionaries are always crazy and the focus groups are always wrong.

Sid Mar 6

Interesting read. For me he take away is this sentence "Find out what customers want without directly asking them." Thanks for quoting it.

Margaret Manson Mar 7

Gregory et al,

All good comments. Some more provocative than others. I think that Steve Jobs' famous quote is constantly being taken out of context.

As a marketer I agree that you don't get innovative insights in a focus group, especially when it comes to technology. Surveys and focus groups have only one view: retrospective and based on known and comparable experiences, i.e. "a faster horse".

In my own experience when I attempted to survey the participants of legendary InnoFuture conferences, most people were listing the speakers they just heard. Others gave me more straightforward answer: "Inspire us!" Oh Goodie!

However, Jobs was far from not knowing his customers (good comment by Wayne above). The developers at Apple have had intimate understanding of customers and their needs - they were heavy users of their own products and they were immersed in the network of the 'creative class' that embraced those products.

One more thing. Innovation is not about being creative and having great ideas. It is about what you do with ideas you find lying around. As someone once said "Innovation is not about looking for new things but looking at the same things that nobody else can see".

Jobs and Apple under his reign are undeniable innovation champions. The question is only how much of it has rubbed off.

Christer Ljungberg Mar 7

Clearly Apple listenes a lot to what their clients want. As did Ford. The thing is that when cuistomers telles you what they want you have to interpret this and then transform the explicit needs into underlying needs. "A faster horse" could be interpret as "I want faster, individual transport". The Ipod and Iphone where not invented out of the blue either. Hundreds of predeccesors paved the way. You need engineers to innovate as they have a good sense of perimeters to work within. Sometimes you can break these perimeters - as when Nokia, against all engineers advice, did away with the protruding antenna and came up with their sleek winning mobiles in the nineties.

Ahmet Mar 7

I think the logic and insight behind that quote (and of Ford's as well) is largely misunderstood by people who don't know how to apply marketing and research tools correctly. As Margaret implies, surveys and focus groups have a specific purpose. If you utilize them for something else, then the results you gain won't help you much.

As Wayne has already pointed out, great designers know whom they are creating for and what their needs and aspirations are. Great businessmen are able to combine tech with design to leverage or create a market. Jobs and Ford have both created new markets.

When you are creating a radical innovation that transforms or creates a market, people won't be able to give feedback. Even if they did, chances are that they don't have the same vision or can't see the overall scope of the idea.

After all, only a few kings and monks will need the press to create books; the market for PCs will only be a few companies and who would want to talk on the phone all day, anyway?

I think the point people like Jobs and Ford were trying to make is that their visions were larger than people could imagine at the time. That's why they didn't listen to them. You need to be a little crazy to walk that path, I think.

Branson with his ideas about space tourism has a similar take on the issue, btw.

Ann Druce Mar 7

There is a big difference between expecting your customer to innovate, and listening to their needs.

Ford's customers might well have asked for faster horses, but they might also have asked for a big horse that could carry 4 people at once, or one that didn't need to be fed at set times. And that might have kick-started the innovation.

So asking the right questions is critical

Michael Harris Mar 7

Since this read is all about opinions, mine is simple. "Customers may know what they want - but they don't know what they need."

A creative developer will always put themselves into the users shoes as to appreciate their wants AND needs. And being around Apple folks much of my life, including Steve, is exactly how things are done. Having empathy is key to true innovation. Committees are sometimes needed, but only after the initial idea is offered up. "A camel is a horse designed by committee." There is no soul in a committee.

To quote Steve yet again: "Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service."

When developing and designing products that invite people to use them, just do it right from the start and put your heart into it. Its harder and it takes longer, but everyone wins in the end...
-mdh

Simon Hedley Mar 7

Great article as ever.

It points at some of what we do for clients.

The catch is to:

1) ask the right questions
2) understand how much questions alter answers
3) understand the assumptions

Steve Jobs - did get a huge amount of customer feedback just not in the ways most would think

Great article to discuss

Neville Cox Mar 7

Henry Ford had it correct ... Customers wanted a faster horse! ... He knew what a faster horse looked like and built it.
That is the best example of finding what customers want without asking them.

Javier Bonnemaison Mar 7

That Apple "didn't test" is marketing hype. Apple wants people to believe in the myth of Steve Jobs and Apple's innovation genius. This is great branding and an easy media sell. The truth, in my opinion, is that Apple's core strengths are product usability and marketing. Apple did plenty of testing, but on usability and design aesthetics rather than innovative functionality. Digital music players, touch interfaces and even tablets were not new to the market when Apple introduced their versions, but theirs were sexier and offered a superior user experience. Tech companies are not traditionally good at these things, and this is Apple's true competitive advantage.

David Dworin Mar 7

Great article. I've found that many companies, including market research companies, use research the wrong way by asking the client to think of the idea for them. Smart research explores a client's life to find pain points that you can creatively alleviate with your product, but asking a customer to innovate for you by telling you what they want is lazy and ineffective. At the same time, solid creativity starts with domain knowledge and context that usually involves some form of research.

Apple never used focus groups for product development, but to say that they never used market research is a myth. Like most large companies, they used research to figure out who was buying their products, why they were buying them, and why people purchased a competitor's product. You can see evidence of it here: http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2012/07/26/turns-out-apple-conducts-market-research-after-all/

Guy White Mar 8

Really interesting article. Thanks.
I recently wrote a blog about this topic also - http://make-ideas-happen.com/2012/10/28/of-course-consumers-wanted-a-faster-horse/

I side with D'Amico. Customer research is critical, but often it doesnt lead to disruptive innovation because:
1) the right questions are not asked
2) the right conclusions are not made
3) the innovation pipeline isnt brave enough to turn the big vision into the disruptive reality

Actually, Jobs did research. According to Walter Isaacson's biography, the iPod was conceived at a boardroom meeting, when Jobs noticed his team all playing with their new MP3 players. Jobs brilliance was to see just how frustrated each of them was with the small memory, lack of functionality and the generally terrible customer interface that existed on existing models. So he set out to make a better one. (At the time, I would say those executives were close to the core target market he was designing for)

Customer Research doesnt have to be staring at 8 potential customers through 2 way mirror.....

Mathieu Gosselin Mar 8

For me the divide is clear.
People don't know what they want.
But they know what they don't want.
So you need to test accordingly.

Never ask people what they want in advance!
You'll never innovate or get something interesting with that, and afterward you did what they asked you will realize it's not what they really wanted.
Otherwise no startup would ever fail. We would all know what people want.

The 1 thing customer feedback can help you with is telling you what sucks and if they like it.
But They probably won't be able to tell you why they like it. You'd have to scan their brain, literally. (check neuromarketing)

So it's good when you have something to show them and they can try it to validate it. So much later in the life cycle of the product.
And i think that's more what Steve Jobs mean by "Don't ask people what they want", but that doesn't mean you shouldn't test it in the end.

Jascha Rohr Mar 9

In our experience the problem is opinion: dont ask customers for their opinion, in most cases they will answer with stereotypes. But if you help customers to explore possibilities and support them with your technical knowledge they do come up with experiences, values, hopes and fears that can really drive your design process. So I agree asking for an opinion will not advance you and your products. Working on your own dies only make sence if you habe a good intuition about your customers and if you work in a market that rewards bold innovation. In most cases a good symbioses is if your expertise and your customers experiences engage in an creative process which is not based on opinions.

Leonard Mar 13

Being an avid user of the ipod classic, I bought a new one, May of 2012. This can hold many hundreds of albums recorded at hi resolution. I called them on a step backwards in progress ( a mistake in design ) on this product after this new purchase. The 80 gig model from 2002 can, from the earbud jack, easily drive your stereo at 15% volume setting and the battery charge can last up to 4X as long as the new 160gig ipod which creates a lot of noise if not driven to 70% volume. This makes you wear out the battery and the audio circuitry a lot quicker than running at 15% volume and shorter play times on a charge. Sure, I guess they increased the number of ipods we might buy, as the battery or ipod will break quicker with this step backwards in ipod design. I made many calls to Apple, they do not show any signs of being aware of what they made in the past and how their current product compares to a previous design. As an audiophile and one who likes a lot of instrumental music that could reveal distortion with inferior equipment and one who pays close attention to detail, I feel a certain level of qualification to make a statement about the new ipod design to Apple. But, they do not appear to be responsive. My critique is a clear concern with poor performance when better performance was achieved in a past design then forgotten or abandoned, as if it's better just because it's new!!!!!! No, Apple, it is Not Better!!!

I have read your article and just simply feel my own concerns about Apple in a specific instance are objective, uncolored and justifiable. Many customers do know what they want and do remember critical things concerning product history and past performance.

Sometimes I feel companies view customers with a certain smugness, as if they ( customers ) are as ignorant as chickens in the barnyard!

Leonard Mar 13

Correction, 80 gig ipod from 2007

Evan Mills Apr 17

This article is dangerous in that many executives, thinking that their business model can be considered as "competent and achieving" currently, would use it as an example to continue business as usual. As HelpScout has noted in other works, the instances of this being accurate are VERY slim.

I would argue that Jobs' philosophy doesn't apply to the vast majority of commercial enterprises - and, is a luxury enjoyed by those actually delivering exceptional guest experiences on a consistent basis. Odds are, it's not you/me/us. So until that magical day, just about every CEO with a business not named Apple should embrace the following philosophy instead: “Guests tell us exactly what we need to do to be successful.”

Listen actively, then respond quickly.

Jay S Apr 25

Excellent article! This is the first article I read here and I will now be subscribed.

As with anything in life, balance is required. If you read the Lean Startup by Eric Ries, he states that all startups should most definitely use customer feedback to drive product development - contrary to what Jobs did at Apple.

Its all dependent on the situation you are in.

John Gibb Apr 30

hey Gregory,

I simply love Henry Ford’s quote

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."

I think everybody who’s into marketing, sales or innovation should have it on a sticky note in front of the computer, and glance over it each morning… it helps!

As for what Jobs thought and taught about listening to customer, who cares what I believe? Look at what man did with Apple, that’s enough said.

Cheers!

marilyn cada May 10

i have read somewhere that when making decisions, Steve Jobs uses his intuition rather than facts. Before he made iPod famous, he went somewhere in India to improve his spirituality and intuition.

marilyn cada May 10

therefore, steve jobs only listened to his intuition and not to his customers

Jessalyn Teoh Jun 24

Interesting article! Steve Job definitely has a unique insight. I have to agree to a certain extent, business should evaluate objectively itself on how well it is executing the service and whether it is living up to the customers' expectation without relying on the customer's feedback all the time. I order products online and deal with customer representatives on the phone a lot of times. Check out my experience: http://su.pr/22MZLv I hope that will give you some insights as well and as to where the bottom line of a company is to listen what a customer says.

Simon Jul 31

What the users want is important. What the users need is even more important. There is a difference.

Jobs, started in a garage in Cali. His company (thanks to him) changed music delivery, mobile, tablets, what design really is - how something works.

In 2007, every phone out there had a silly hinge on it. So trash Jobs all you want, what he accomplished won't be matched. And the android looks like the iPhone Gen 1.

Any person on this thread speaking ill of the dead should be quiet and play on their android. What do you expect from cube dwellers that are probably unpaid interns?

Ww Aug 15

"We don't act what we say, we don't say what we think, we don't think what will feel" It is hard to drag out what the audience really want.
If we have a strong belief in doing something, we can work on it with heads down all the time. However, when we are not as confident as that man, it is good to turn around and listen.

Vineeth Aug 20

Hey Greg, I agree with the conclusion that you have cited here.

The other day one of my engineering colleagues quoted that Steve Jobs said "Never ask your users what they want".

The key here is, not being unaware of the end users, but being able to ask the right questions the right way. The primary goal to meeting with users is to not ask them what they want, but to understand their needs, through smartly phrased research questions. Only poor designers/researchers ask direct leading questions.

I so fear the impact and misinterpretation of such quotes, towards believing that Steve Jobs didn't value end users.

Antony David Sep 2

Thanks for these insights. I feel that it's important to discover what customers value - as opposed to what they say they want or need. People pay money for what they value. If like us you work in a technology industry, it's useful to foster a creative tension between market led thinking and technical leadership. Jobs was someone who could integrate these aspects but most of us need to work collaboratively to succeed.
Market led thinking derives from understanding what customers value and where there are gaps in the market, or better, opportunities to create genuinely new markets. The tricky bit is devising ways to get potential customers to reveal what they will value. Direct questioning won't work well for the reasons described above. Imaginatively crafted interactions are needed. Frequently these will have to be qualitative rather than quantitative.
Technology leadership involves corralling a palette of different elements, which could be in-house inventions, collaborations with third parties or new uses for established technology, and creating something new, ideally that matches an opportunity identified by the marketers.

David Sep 8

Simply put, don't ask customers for solutions. Ask them for problems. If you ask them what they want, you get the "faster horses response", but if you ask them what frustrates them about the current situation, you get "caring for the horse is a chore, too slow, etc." which can be a spring board for creative solutions from design experts who can see that the issue here is the horse itself.

Vijay Kulkarni Oct 23

Customer will tell you about their PROBLEMS (if you asked them right questions); but they won’t be able to (always) give you the (innovative) SOLUTION.
Customer's problems can be looked as needs (gaps to be filled) and "Need is mother of Invention".

Dominic Crapuchettes Dec 20

It's always important to listen to your customers. No one will ever get me to believe that Steve Jobs did not listen to his customers. That's completely silly.

At the same time, it is important differentiate between what your customers are asking for, and what they want. Everyone was asking Henry Ford to make a faster horse, but inherent in that request is an underlying need for faster transportation. It's important to focus on the problems of your customers, even as you disregard their advice about how they expect that problem to be solved.

Design by committee is the worst sort of design. It creates a bloated mess that lacks focus. I am a board game designer. It is not possible to design a great game without listening to feedback. But at the same time, you have to listen between the lines to the advice that people give. I ignore most of the things people tell me I should do. Instead, I focus on figuring out what part of the game are fun, and what parts are not fun. Then with my deeper experience of game design, I think of ways to increase the aspects that the most people find fun, and reduce the aspects that most people find tedious.

I'm sure Steve Jobs did the same. Isn't this the same Steve Jobs that focused on "Customer Experience" when talking about User Interface? The only way to get insight into how intuitive an interface to your customers is by watching them interact with it.

Vincent Kernaghan Jan 16

Not sure why no one mentioned the different types of customers that could apply to the various references. It certainly simplifies the conversations to refer to them as a generic group, but it also overlooks a huge aspect of how market research and product development can proceed more successfully using segmentation and personification of target markets.

Customer actions and reactions often speak much more accurately than their responses to direct questions, advice and opinions in studies.

Jobs DID listen to his customers, but in a roundabout way and more to their reactions and responses than their direct advice - and to certain groups and personas more than others. He knew who Apple was REALLY selling to and he realized how important that was after his NeXT experiences.

Sam Jan 30

In my mind, there's a relationship between how much customer interaction you need, and how specific the customers needs are.

For example, if I'm designing something for general needs like status, social connection, entertainment, etc., those are needs I can relate to. I can understand those needs.

The iPhone satisfied general needs (some specific ones too, but that's not what made it great). Not only could
Apple's designers relate to the needs, they had the freedom to exercise every bit of design prowess they possessed in meeting those needs

Take Henry Ford's "faster horse" example, the true need wasn't a faster horse, it was faster transportation, a general need. Ford understood and felt this need without needing interviews and focus groups.

Now let's say I'm designing a tool for brain surgery. Unless I'm a brain surgeon myself, or have a team of them working for me, I will be interacting with brain surgeons all the time and getting their feedback. I'll be doing focus groups and interviews. I don't understand the need and my design space is very limited. To be successful in this case, I need intimate customer interaction.

Nitin Verma Mar 18

Great article and a very interesting debate. We need to keep our eyes and ears open. Customers needs may be reflective of the environment and the market culture. Flexibility is the key.

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