Consumer Deep-Diving vs. Gut Feeling

09 Feb 2007|Lori Hobson

Has Steve Jobs demonstrated that high impact innovation is best done sans exploration with consumers? In case you don’t know, Apple is a company that largely arrives at innovative product and business concepts based on the gut feel and apparent genius of a handful of people – Messieurs Jobs, Ive, and a small cadre of designers and engineers. With the phenomenal success of the iPod and its larger ecosystem, it might be hard to say that all winning innovation starts with a Cheskin-style deep dive into consumers’ meaningful experiences.

Yet, most organizations do not have the vision, design savvy, drive, dictatorship, infrastructure, secrecy, or funding-processes that Apple has.

Having been in the product design and innovation world for more than a decade now, and having seen thousands of concepts and business plans, I am sure that I could count the organizations with the wherewithal to execute a la Apple on one hand – actually, not counting Apple, maybe on only one finger. In fact, it is a common joke among product design agencies that every client these days says they want to do it like Apple, when we all know none of them could. They want to do it like Apple, but they have a me-too concept and a budget that only allows for two rounds of ideation and one round of prototyping. (“Oh we could never do four or more prototypes! We don’t have the budget, and we need to ship by September to be in stores for Christmas.”)

Where I live, my home that is, we are living proof of this contradiction around innovation. My husband is a product designer in the iPod group, while I am the champion of the value of understanding consumers. It makes for interesting dinner conversation, these divergent paths to great new things.

For every one but Apple (and the single other company I recall who really did want to do it right), the only way to get a concept through the stage gates, politics, nay-sayers, and analyst feedback is to have some kind of insight that derives from customers. Large organizations, in particular, need to have an agreed upon point of reference – customers! – for generating ideas, making tradeoffs, driving the idea through to completion, and having a tool for knowing when they have it right.

So, based on thousands of data points, I say there are two kinds of companies: Apple and everyone else. For everyone else, please contact me at Cheskin so we can hook you up.

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