The Customer is Always Right

2007 June 17

I gave a talk to the M50 in New York last week. There I heard the common cry for more customer-led innovation as opposed to technology-led innovation. The logic of this approach being the assumption that when you let technologists make stuff, they are bound to make products that have more features than you'd ever want in a lifetime. Instead by listening to your customers, a product that is better tailored to their needs is created. In other words it isn't necessarily over-designed or over-engineered. It's ideally juuuuuuust right. Seems like commonsense.

Later in the week, I had lunch with the owner of a small business where I brought up the point above. His reply was that even when big businesses listen to their customers, that by virtue of being so large they can't change what they're doing fast enough to respond. So by the time they've changed, the customers needs have often moved onto something else. He was trying to make his own point that a leader's intuition shouldn't be discounted as a necessary tool in a world where hard data seems to matter too much. With so many unpredictable variables, the power of luck in success is everpresent.