The Crucial Thing Your Customers Can’t Tell You

Posted by:

So I was reading an online article yesterday about the iPad (because, as we all know, there haven’t been enough articles about the iPad). The article itself wasn’t earth-shattering—something about how the iPad is outselling Mac computers—but I thought one of the comments was hugely insightful. The thread was about why Apple products, particularly the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad, are so immensely popular. The comment that caught my eye (or, in AppleSpeak, my “i”) was this:

Everybody else is creating things that people want. Apple creates things that people will want.

And isn’t that a great philosophy for your business?

I’m not saying that you should base your entire business on a roll of the dice, i.e., guessing what people might want in the future. That can have a deleterious effect on one’s blood pressure. But what if you were to spend one hour a week—just an hour—thinking about what your customers and clients might want that they don’t even know they want yet. Think back to those heady days of 2006, before the iPhone existed. Chances are, you weren’t sitting around thinking, “You know what I’d like? A cell phone that doesn’t have buttons, but rather has a full-color visual display. Oh, and it can also receive and send e-mails, organize my contacts and calendar, and play all my music.” You didn’t want an iPhone because you had no conception of an iPhone. And yet, when you saw your first iPhone, what did you immediately think?


If, on May 31, 1967, you had asked rock music fans what kind of music they wanted to listen to, there’s not a chance in hell they would have described the album that was going to be released the following day. Yet within a week, everybody—everybody—was listening to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. See, the Beatles didn’t rely on focus groups or customer surveys. Those can be great tools, but they’re not going to tell you what the customer doesn’t know he or she wants yet. How could it?

The Beatles didn’t record the album their customers wanted. They recorded the album their customers would want—but didn’t yet know it.

It comes down to two traits: vision and innovation.

Vision is the fun part. It’s the looking into the future, it’s the playing “what if.” What if we took the iPhone and made it a lot bigger? What would that look like? (Answer: the iPad.) What if a brass band were to make a rock album? What would that sound like? (Answer: Sgt. Pepper.)

Innovation focuses on the actual implementation of the vision (think of innovation as “creativity plus implementation”). Sgt. Pepper turned out to be a great idea, but until the Beatles actually recorded the thing and slapped it onto vinyl, that’s all it was—a great idea.

So take that hour a week and focus on what your customers may want that they don’t yet know they want. That’s how the Beatles made Sgt. Pepper—and as we all know, Sgt. Pepper ended up selling like…well, like iPads.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
  Related Posts