industry Voices: Innovation Is About Listening
Listening and responding to consumers is not always easy, because they often don’t realize what their considerations, wants and needs actually are. That’s what Steve Jobs meant when he paraphrased Henry Ford’s response to the question regarding customer input on product design: “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse.”
The formal method of listening to what people think they want wouldn’t have produced the automobile or the iPad, iPhone, iMac, or the Air. Asking people what they think, what they want, and what they like doesn’t work, because people are fundamentally nice and want to be helpful, even when they can’t help. Most of the time, they just tell you what they think you want to hear.
But the minute consumers start using particular products, they began searching for and thinking about enhancements, features and functions that make daily usage easier, more effective and more satisfying. The Internet has allowed people to quickly tell companies that they want multiple USB ports, faster SSDs and external storage.
Innovation is a lot more than just saying, “we listen.” And is there really any company that doesn’t claim to listen? Innovation starts with an acceptance that the world and the marketplace has changed, and continues to change. That’s why progressive firms view the customer in new ways—not just as sales targets, but as partners.