New product developers with attitude
Some developers’ attitude is “the customer is too stupid to know what they want until we show them”. Developers with this attitude try to avoid the ambiguity associated with moving an idea to commercialization. Their stance is “we know our customers.” These developers consider front-end concept testing a waste of time and talents.
Trusting that they are correct, they launch new products after sloppy, front-end homework with customers. Instead of new product success, the result often is a resource-wasting failure.
Even worse, an agile response by fast-follower competitors can capture the market. These competitors know, from the market’s response, the product is incomplete. So they learn which of your assumptions are flawed and quickly provide the product needed by the customers.2
Be an Intelligent Pupil, not a Know-It-All
Seasoned elicitors remain in the Intelligent Pupil role for every conversation with an expert. Experts may be individuals working on the shop floor with products that don’t do the job. Experts may be learned technical gurus who keynote conferences around the world. All experts have unarticulated needs that a better product, perhaps based on your new product concept, could solve.
intelligent Pupils know that even after 30 expert conversations in a project, asking “dumb” questions can uncover golden insights on unstated needs. Dumb questions are those where knowledge the elicitor has already gathered points to an obvious answer. But the expert does not give the “obvious” answer. Instead the expert tentatively begins to surface a key unarticulated need your concept might meet. The elicitor with “Why” and “I don’t understand” questions fleshes out key latent needs.
Know-It-Alls “already know the answer” to dumb questions. They interrupt the expert’s train of thought when they anticipate where the answer to a question is going. They finish the thought in their own words, and move on, leaving priceless information on latent needs uncollected.
1. James Watson Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science Knopf (2007)
2. Rita McGrath and Ian MacMillian Discovery-Driven Growth Harvard Business Press (2009)