I recently an article on Linkedin stating Steve Jobs didn’t listen to his customers and how listening to your customers stymies innovation. Everything stated in this article is absolutely true; however, I disagree. Steve Jobs was once quoted as saying “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.” Henry Ford was quoted that “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
If you ask a customer what they want, they will assuredly ask for more of the same old thing only improved. However, If you ask a customer what they want and they tell you they want a faster horse or a better phone or a better drill, you are not listening. Everything has to boil down to the underlying need. Steve Jobs listened and he didn’t hear “I need a better phone,” he heard, “I need a way to make things more convenient while I am on the go.” Henry Ford, didn’t hear “I need a faster horse” he heard “I need better, faster, more convenient transportation.” So, you can innovate in the dark and pray your results hits pay dirt or you can innovate while listening to the customers underlying needs and improve your chances.
What stymies innovation, is focusing on the product when you listen to your customers. What makes for successful innovation is focusing on the underlying need and finding a new and different way to meet the need. You can’t shut out your customer while you are dreaming. You need to include them when you dream and dream big. Steve Jobs listened plenty and developed not only a phone for on the go, but also a platform that would aid the customers while they are on the go from conversations, texting, games, movies, and on and on.