A great vision is informed by customers

 

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A product manager coming up with a vision. Illustration courtesy of Viv Kay.

Vision. Every great product needs it. CEOs and product managers are expected to have it. But where does vision come from?

A gut feeling

Perhaps it’s just intuition. That spidey-sense of knowing exactly what to build next. Steve Jobs was probably the master of intuition. He had a knack for turning out successful product, after successful product. He had an almost supernatural ability to know what users would like or not.

Intuition – a thing that one knows or considers likely from instinctive feeling rather than conscious reasoning.

It probably helped that he used all of his own products (and others). The iPod, for example, was born out of Jobs’ frustration using clunky MP3 players in the late 90’s. Combined with his discovery of FireWire (a fast syncing technology) and illegal file sharing (a crappy user experience), Jobs saw an opportunity for Apple to enter the music space and change the game. The iPod was born.

But we’re not all Steve Jobs. And we’re not all building well-known, consumer products like the iPod. A lot of us are building more complex products with businesses as customers. Knowing what customers want is not as simple as using the product ourselves. On top of that, we’re mortal so we must rely on other means of driving our intuition.

Asking customers

Nobody likes building a product that’s not wanted. As a product manager or CEO, your job (among other things) is to build something customers want.

“Customers don’t know what they want until they see it” – Steve Jobs

They might not tell you what the next big thing is going to be. But customers know better than you how your product affects them or their business. They are the most intimate users of your product. They know what’s good about it and what sucks. They know how it could be made better. They offer up ideas, suggestions, and complaints, within each, there is a nugget of insight waiting to be analyzed.

Smart product managers and CEOs tap into this knowledge. They find ways of getting this information, deeply understanding their customers and their problems, so that they can build better products. This doesn’t mean that you build everything customers ask for. Quite the contrary. But understanding their needs is vital. The secret is this is where intuition comes from.

Not afraid to ask

Like Steve Jobs, many consider Elon Musk to be so visionary that he’s not from this planet. Based on his ability to dream up new products like rockets taking us to Mars and affordable luxury electric cars, the last thing you’d think to catch him doing is asking customers what to build next.

However, that’s exactly what he did recently. When unveiling plans that Tesla would be building an electric pickup truck, he took to Twitter to ask his future customers what features they’d like to see.

 

 

I’m guessing that Elon himself does not drive a pickup, so while he might have his own opinions on what users might like and dislike, he was humble enough to just ask. Is this just Elon exhibiting another example of his genius? Or do other CEOs do this?

 

I love this. It shows these companies are humble and care about understanding the needs of their customers. This is what leads to great intuition.

So whether you’re the CEO, a product manager, or anybody else working on a product, don’t be afraid to ask your customers what they want. Who knows, maybe people really will start to believe you just have some product spidey-sense after all.

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