What’s the Sound of Two Ears Closing?

February 17, 2010 at 1:43 PM 1 comment

It’s officially a trend: innovation is now being defined as an absence of listening. In fact, listening is worse than wrong – it’s not even macho. Here’s Dan Pallotta on HBR’s Blog talking about why real leaders don’t do focus groups:

Focus groups are all about reference points. Make it more like this, less like that. Whether it’s business, social business, or charity, breakthroughs are defined by the absence of reference points, and leadership is defined by the courage to leave all of the reference points behind.

monaOf course there’s plenty of truth here. But we’ve also got a straw man: slavish reliance on focus groups as the only alternative to pure, out-of-thin-air invention. As I’ve said before, innovation relies on a deep and intuitive understanding of the customer’s experience — the ability to walk in your customers’ shoes, and understand their world as they live in it. When you innovate you’re not creating products, you’re creating experiences. No focus group can give you that – but who said it could?

Focus groups often consist of consultants watching people, a bit like rats in a cage, taking down their comments. Innovators like Steve Jobs don’t need that because their genius is their understanding of the customer experience. Most of us achieve that understanding through deep, structured listening – a far cry from the clipboard-toting researcher behind the one-way glass.

Instead of bringing up the iPhone once again, it’s instructive to review new ideas that didn’t employ this deep understanding: the countless PCjrs, Segways, New Cokes, Disc Film cameras, and Quadrophonic audios. They’re good reminders of the need to listen deeply to customers and understand their world.


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Bulldozing When to Ignore the Customer

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Customer Experience Crossroads  |  February 20, 2010 at 7:10 AM

    Focus Groups: how can a table and some chairs cause such controversy?…

    The comments are a much better read than the actual post, which coughs up the same tired mythologies you’ve already heard a hundred, if not a thousand, times. [e.g. Henry Ford and the “faster horse” soundbite, the “Apple doesn’t do research” myth…


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Thompson Morrison

Thompson Morrison

About Thompson

As CEO of FUSE Insight, Thompson Morrison uses powerful new web interviewing technologies to help businesses better align their brand with the needs and aspirations of their customers. Learn more at www.fuseinsight.com


"The single most significant strategic strength that an organization can have is not a good strategic plan, but a commitment to strategic listening on the part of every member of the organization." -- Tom Peters



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