Henry Ford (founder of the Ford Motor Company) is famed to have once said that if he’d asked his customers what they wanted they would have said “faster horses”. The inference of course being that your customers can’t see beyond an evolution of what they already have.
Well, if indeed he did say this, then it could be considered to have been a pretty arrogant and condescending statement. But I like to think charitably of the intent behind the comment which makes it an extremely humble and vitally important notion for companies that want to do something truly great.
You see, the way I think of it is this:
“It isn’t our customer’s job to obsess day and night about how to build the best possible service to sell back to them. It’s ours!”
It just isn’t fair to put that burden on your customer or client. They have their own job to do.
But it’s worse than that. If it’s true that your clients have less time or impetus to think about how to build your product or service than you do, and you are still willing to just rely on them to tell you, then I’m afraid you’re just being lazy!
This doesn’t mean you should ignore client feedback – far from it; it’s vital information, whether negative or positive (in fact, especially useful if you’re lucky enough to receive negative feedback). But if client feedback is regularly telling you stuff you didn’t already know and were working like hell to fix, then you’re just not doing your job properly.
Before they became the biggest band of all time, The Beatles didn’t ask music fans what kind of song they would like to hear. The founders of Google didn’t send out a survey to search engine users to discover that what we all wanted was a search engine which returned the results we were looking for. And they certainly didn’t ask how to achieve this.
The tough-luck part of innovating is that you just have to obsess, day and night, until you’ve entirely internalised the problem, and keep on obsessing further about how to fix it. Then, if you care about it enough, and the creative juices are flowing, you might just discover some magical new way to solve something. It then helps to have incredibly brilliant people to work with who can shoot you down and challenge your ideas so that either they’re discarded or you perfect them together and everyone gets behind them. After that you just have to go through the hell of working out how to execute them, and then take the risk you might be flat wrong. There is no comfort blanket, or air bag. If you’ve messed up, nobody will buy your product or service. But if you’ve got it right, and you’ve come up with something truly special and game-changing, it feels like little else.
To have delivered something of quantum-leap value to the world or to your chosen industry, and to positively effect the lives of everyone who comes into contact with your creation. For us, it doesn’t get a lot better than that.
The colourful and brilliant, late Steve Jobs was famous for saying that customers don’t know what they want until you show it to them. Again, I don’t like the arrogant inference, but if you spin it around and say “if you’re not surprising and delighting your customers with something they never even dreamed of, then you’re not really adding much”, I think it kind of means the same thing.
Now of course, that doesn’t mean that your customers can’t come up with the idea for the next step-change in your product or service; it just means it really isn’t their job to, and that if you rely on that, you’re essentially just rolling the dice, and you’re not truly innovating.
There is nothing inherently wrong with producing products or services which are basically the same as everyone else’s, with a few improvements here and there. It’s fine. Put effort into your sales and marketing methods instead, and you’ll do ok. That’s just not how we’re built at IP Centrum.
We identify deeply with truly great IP formalities professionals. The kind who wake up in the middle of the night concerned that they may have forgotten something, and who care so deeply about precision and perfection that the thought of a lapse or failure brings them out in cold sweats. These are special people, and the importance and challenge of what they do can sometimes be overlooked. So we focus our passion and effort on building the absolute finest possible services to support them, rather than on how to convince their superiors to sign a contract with us. We find they, and their superiors are generally pretty smart, and don’t need their hands holding to be able to tell the difference!
Unfortunately, true creative innovation is extraordinarily hard. It’s also full of extreme risk, as you’re introducing products, services or ways of doing things which nobody has done before. You can’t employ experts in the field as the field doesn’t exist yet. You can’t compare yours to someone else’s as there isn’t another one! You can’t even ask someone whether what you’ve done is good or bad as nobody (including you) really knows the answer, until you launch, take the humbling risk, and let your customers decide if you got it right or wrong. It’s a bit like putting yourself out there in front of the object of your affection, and just taking the risk they won’t love you back! Pretty painful if it goes wrong, but then what’s life really all about if you never take the risk?
So if it’s so difficult, and there are alternative, much easier ways of building a profitable business, then why bother?
It’s a tough thing to answer, except to say: hasn’t somebody got to?