Give the people what they want!
Today, the subject of my contrariness is about innovation and customers. There's a concept that seems logical but doesn't offer much hope for true innovation - that is, asking people what they want. While this approach seems logical, there are a number of problems associated with it:
- Most people don't know what they want
- Of those that do, they don't represent a significant population and/or aren't market makers
- You aren't the only one with the bright idea of asking people what they want, your competitors are doing that too
- Real innovation is usually about solving an unmet or unserved need. Wants are aspirational, needs are practical.
- Most people are not willing to think disruptively, so many ideas that result from customers are likely to be incremental at best
There are a number of approaches, but the ones we like best are:
- Rapid Prototyping
- Identification of unmet needs
- Lead Users
Lead users is a concept that Eric von Hippl describes in his book. This is the case of identifying what people are already doing with a product or service in a way that was not intended. The classic example is the mountain bike. When mountain bikes didn't exist, lead users created them with bits and pieces of motorcycles, regular bikes and bike parts. Specialized, one of the leading mountain bike manufacturers, sold bike parts in those days. They recognized that something was going on and watched the folks who were building their own bikes, and entered with a "packaged" mountain bike. Lead users are already doing what others are likely to do in the future - you don't have to ask them, you just have to observe them.
A logical approach then would be to identify lead users, identify the undermet or unmet needs they are satisfying and quickly prototype a solution to present to your customers for confirmation.