Not the Customer’s Job to Know What They Want

There was a nice short video on TechCrunch the other day, quoting Mark Zuckerberg, John Doerr, and two other industry leaders on how much the iPad has changed “everything.” I picked it up because of what John Doerr says near the end.

The video snippet I’ve embedded here skips directly to my favorite part, at 2:45, very near the end, as John Doerr talks about Steve Jobs saying what market research has done for the iPad. Jobs says:

It’s not the consumers’ job to figure out what they want.

I like that. As we turn increasingly to polling and research for answers, the problem is that people don’t often say what they really think, and quite often don’t even know what they really want. One kind of leadership, to me, is leading people instead of asking people. You take a guess. When you guess right, you win big. Guess wrong, you lose.  Is it possible that this is also called entrepreneurship? What do you think?


  • Alex says:

    I agree with this. In not about ignoring customers, but understanding that they will not give the solution, but they are very good at helping you identifying problems

  • says:

    Absolutely. That is entrepreneurship. We take risks. That is what defines us. However, there is a line between telling consumers what they want and releasing something new that entices them.

  • Charles Robinson says:

    Tim, flipping this around a bit, do you think it’s always applicable? As Dru and Gary say, there are times when you do want to find out from your customers what their points of pain are. I think it might be a difference between working with existing products and solutions versus defining something completely new. Apple didn’t set out to create another tablet or slate. They set out to deliver something no one had ever seen before.

    Gary – Tablets and slates have been around for a long time. The innovation for the iPad was almost completely in iOS. The hardware was the trivial part. In fact, several similar products were already available. It was Apple’s energetic fanbase coupled with iOS innovations that really set it apart.

    • Tim Berry says:

      Charles, no, I don’t think it’s always applicable, but then I don’t think any of the general rules are always applicable. I think any well-run company is constantly polling its customers, and that often leads to product improvements. I think you do that as much as you can, but don’t let it limit the creativity to come up with something entirely new. By the way, I like your point about the iOS, that makes a lot of sense to me. Thanks for the addition. Tim

  • Gary Kline says:

    My thinking runs along a similar line to Dru’s. We can learn from our customers what problems they have. Their “points of pain” as they are often called. But it is up to us to also try to understand their unstated need and wants.

    And it’s definitely our job to find solutions to those problems. We often must find solutions that not only solve the stated problems, but those unstated ones as well.

    The iPad was not a guess. It was the result of a deliberate design effort, to fill an existing gap in electronic devices.

  • Dru Wynings says:

    “As we turn increasingly to polling and research for answers, the problem is that people don’t often say what they really think, and quite often don’t even know what they really want.”

    I think part of the problem is people go to their customers in search of the answers (solutions), instead of in search of the right question (the problem).

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