Why many businesses are headed in the wrong direction

Most businesses spend their time and efforts trying to find out what it is that customers want, and then supply those wants. However, such customer-focused businesses are heading in the wrong direction, according to Michael Schrage in his book Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become? Instead, as the title of the book suggests, they should be focusing on the question of what they want their customers to become. Innovation necessarily transforms customers into something else.

Under Steve Jobs, Apple had no time for consumer research, saying that it was not the consumer’s job to know what they want. Google’s search system was developed before the ultimate users knew that they needed it. Ryanair succeeds by cutting costs to provide low-cost air travel, regardless of what customers think. Real innovators are too busy inventing the future to listen to customers. They know what innovation their customers need even before customers know they need it.

The book prescribes six key insights:

  • Innovation is an investment in the capabilities and competencies of your customers
  • Innovation is about designing customers
  • Customer vision is as important as corporate vision
  • Customer vision should be aligned with user experience
  • Be your own best beta-tester
  • Anticipate and manage the dark side of innovations

The author’s perspective on innovation and customer focus is an interesting one which undoubtedly will be of use to some businesses, but will it become one of those classic ideas which revolutionises business thinking? Only time will tell. In the meantime, those who are prepared to invest a few dollars and a couple of hours in reading this short book will benefit by having their views of customer-centricity challenged.

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