The Most Undervalued Trait in Innovation


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Working with Entrepreneurs, Startups and Innovators, I find the willingness to walk in the shoes of their customers is the most undervalued and often times, the most difficult part of the process. I was shocked but impressed to find in the Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup that author Bill Aulet started his first step around the customer and market.  I have always felt it was better to find a hungry market building a product/service for it versus having a great product/service and finding a market for it.

An excerpt from next week’s Business901 podcast:

Bill Aulet: This is what my thesis was about; when I can walk in my customer’s shoes, when I can finish my customer’s sentence, when I understand them, not just rationally, but emotionally and socially then I can design a great product.  If you think of Steve Jobs, that’s what he did, he basically immersed himself in the persona of his customers. When you look at a great actor, that’s what they do too. How did Robert De Niro become a great actor? He immerses himself in the character, he studies everything about them. Ashton Kutcher playing Steve Jobs, he learned everything he possibly could and that same mentality applies if you want to develop great products. Develop a persona and really, really understand your customer, but choose the right customer to begin with and that’s the process we go through at the beginning.

Joe: I think you portrayed that so accurately and so wonderfully because everybody looks at Steve Jobs as having this great idea. But it’s that sense that he was able to step into the shoes of his customer is what made him so great. Letting go of all his thoughts, not his thoughts, but all of his pre-conditioned responses or what he thought and then step into the customers shoes.Disciplined Entrepreneurship

Bill Aulet: Oh you’re so right Joe, when I read that book, the authorized biography; he literally transformed himself into the user there. He would sit there use the product and understand it. He didn’t ask the customer to design the product. He understood them so well and he became the customer. When you see that with great companies, either the founding team comes from the customer base or they learn so much about it. Then they start to hire people from the customer base that the line between the customer and the company becomes very blurry, they become intertwined with each other. This was one of the things when IBM was a great company, we understood our customer. We were on site with them, they considered us part of their operations at times, and then that’s when you know you can design the right product.

The idea of designing a product for someone you think of abstractly or you understand through the internet, I describe it as like designing a product for an animal at the zoo that’s on the other side of the bars. That doesn’t work really well. I don’t understand panda bears so I can’t design a product for a panda bear. If you ask me for the products to understand to design as an industrial designer, I didn’t understand it at first but we learned a tremendous amount about it. We hired people from that field. We lived their life for weeks at a time and that’s how you do it. When you look at Jobs, to your point, that’s what Jobs did, he literally transformed himself into that.

Bill Aulet is the managing director in the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship at MIT and author of the a new book, Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup.

As an entrepreneur, do you surround yourself with people that know your market? Or, do you surround yourself with people that are proficient at a certain skill set? Do you hire based on skill of occupation or knowledge of the market? If asked, how accurately could people in your organization complete a user persona?  Would they even attempt it?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joseph Dager
Business901 is a firm specializing in bringing the continuous improvement process to the sales and marketing arena. He has authored the books the Lean Marketing House, Marketing with A3 and Marketing with PDCA. The Business901 Blog and Podcast includes many leading edge thinkers and has been featured numerous times for its contributions to the Bloomberg's Business Week Exchange.


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