Friday, October 24, 2014

You are not Steve Jobs

I found this article at Help Scout and found it interesting. I was going to use it on my research blog, Open Source Software & Usability, but decided it was a better fit here at Coaching Buttons. We are now starting another input cycle to listen to our campus constituents, to learn what new tools will best support the teaching and learning mission.

While campuses want to be engaged and part of the decision-making process, Apple and Steve Jobs viewed the landscape differently. Rather than consult with customers, Apple pioneered new opportunities, exploring innovative new product ideas. Granted, this was not always successful; one only needs to look at the Apple Lisa and the Newton for examples. But on balance, Apple has found success.

At Help Scout, Gregory Ciotti writes about Why Steve Jobs Didn't Listen to His Customers. The article begins with this memorable Jobs quote: “It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.”

The article is filled with examples and quotes and scenarios typical of Apple's attitude to new product innovation:
The Benefits of Sheltered Innovation

How can people tell you what they want if they haven’t seen it before? If we ask them what they want, we’ll end up doing Swan Lake every year! –Cirque du Soleil

Any innovative company struggles with how much to listen to customers. Most realize that you cannot trust them to tell you what your next new product will be.

How can you get ahead of the curve if your customer feedback mostly consists of today’s popular ideas?

Do Customers Really Know What They Want?

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” –Henry Ford
The article concludes with the reminder "You Are Not Steve Jobs." As much as some of us like to think otherwise, not everyone is the next Steve Jobs. Often, customers won't reward you for failing to consult with them. From the article:
If customers were asked to improve the music listening experience back in a day where CD players ruled, they likely couldn’t have envisioned the iPod. But then again, you probably aren’t producing the next iPod.

But the Jobs method cannot apply across the board to all companies, which becomes pretty apparent when analyzing the results of Apple practices being employed at less similar companies.
So how can you gather input from your customers? Find out what customers want without directly asking them. Ask lateral questions that target how people use tools, how they teach classes (faculty) or how they learn best (students). What sort of things grab their attention? Where have they had trouble understanding, and what elements had the strongest lasting impact? By asking questions in this way, you may gain valuable insight to how technology can serve your campus.
photo: Wikipedia. Original uploaded by Matt Yohe (CC BY-SA)

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