What’s the Sound of Two Ears Closing?
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.
Of 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.