Tuesday, September 13, 2005

What Role for Customers in Product Innovation?

A great blog, Signal vs. Noise, that I just stumbled across has a post about an article in Time Magazine.

Time accentuates what on the surface might be a conflict with my notion that the customer is king and that we are here to serve the customer. When it comes to product innovation, however, customers are not a reliable source for breakthrough ideas.

Time writes how Steve Job's team invented the iPod and how with this invention, Apple reaffirms their mission to guide instead of follow their customers:

It was a gutsy play, and it came from the gut: unlike almost any other high-tech company, Apple refuses to run its decisions by focus groups. You can and of course should listen to your customers. But to be able to innovate on their behalf, you need to place an even higher premium on your own vision.
It is my experience that customers can tell you about their unmet needs ... the places where they have pain or hopes. But customers are not the best source for innovation, or they would have solved their own pains and hopes. Innovation does come from your vision, culture and the imagination to see some new way of meeting customer's unmet needs and hopes.

You get no disagreement from me, that despite the hard core fact that we are living in a customer-centric world, customers are not good at helping us invent solutions ... especially, most especially focus groups (they are better at killing good ideas than creating them).


At 7:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dale: I've never participated in a focus group, but I'm reminded that many people like to be critics. We need to listen to customers, as a later post out at SVN points out, but we shouldn't expect them to do our job.


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