Two schools of thought:

1. Ask your customers what they want, then do what they say.
2. Don’t ask your customers what they want, they don’t know what’s possible anyway.

Guess which school yard I grew up in.

I keep hearing technologists, (it’s almost always technologists), say they have a better idea about what their customers want than the customers they’re talking about. Yet technology looking for a market is as big a problem now as it was before Moore crossed the chasm.

Ask for ideas from someone who’s only experience is Rodin, you’ll never hear about HDTV, or iTunes, or a shark in a tank. Nobody was asking for Twitter. I get that.

But those kind of leaps aren’t from imagination, they’re from iteration and insight. So iterate your way to insight. Customers are always (always) the source. They may not have crisp concepts in mind. But they have crunchy problems they want to solve, stuff they want to get done, and a dream that life – right here – could be better.

So ask: What’s troubling you? What are you spending money or time or energy on that you don’t like? What’s in the way? What’s the weakest link? If you had to save 40% of you annual budget, where would you start? How would you do it different if you started again? Here be dragons? What about here? When did you notice things not working?

If you don’t have customers now, find some you’d like to serve. Ask them.

If YOU are your customer – if it’s your own crunchy problem or seemingly perfect insight that’s morphing into brilliance – bank the fire and give your judgement some network effects. Find five people you don’t already know who’ll tell you, to your face, they’d pay to solve the problem.

It’s easy to get carried away with your own ideas. You may be right, but add a few more conversations to the mix. Take baby steps if you have to, but make sure your feet are on the ground.

Innovating Making Promises