Is it best to ignore your customers?
Innovation thought leaders such as von Hippel, Utterback and then Christensen, have written about the risks of listening to customers when trying to innovate. A fellow blogger defended Facebook’s policy to ignore users by pointing out that if Porsche paid attention to its customer surveys they would build a Volvo:
Of course Utterback, von Hippel, Christensen, and probably Facebook are not saying to ignore customer needs — their point is that customers have trouble expressing their deepest needs and understanding that there might be solutions to their most important problems. Academics refer to latent needs and contextual or sticky information to label this problem.
The solution is to not to ignore customers but to try to get to these latent needs. This may mean putting less weight on surveys and hiring anthropologists to do ethnography instead of hosting another focus group. Think voice of the customer, site visits, lead users, experimenting, rapid prototyping, probe and learn, and open source.