“Innovation comes from the producer – not from the customer.”

Edward Deming

Nanovators start a lot of conversations with “What if?” and respond to a lot of push back with “Why not?” Their imaginations are always on the go—to places that others have never been. It’s as though they can see over the horizon, beyond the buzz of the market and beyond the articulated needs and desires of customers. This is how they end up with products and services that were never asked for, but are devoured by customers when they finally get them.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would’ve said faster horses.”

Henry Ford

If Tata Motors had relied solely on the market to inform product design, where would it be today? The Nano might be an enclosed motorcycle or a pepped-up auto rickshaw. So, what do you do? Like Team Nano did, you keep asking questions until you get the answers no one expected.

Keep the customer in the front of your mind and at the heart of everything you do. Talk to them, listen to them, but don’t rely on everything they tell you—use your intuition. And, read in between the lines of what they aren’t telling you. How do you do that? Stop distancing yourself from your customers through the mediation of focus groups and sales force anecdotes. Don’t just analyze the spreadsheets; engage all of your senses. Borrow from the best methods in social science and get to know them firsthand:

When you design a car around customer wishes, you get cup holders.
When you design a car around innovative thinking, you get Porsches.

When a Nanovator hears “either/or” it signals a potential opportunity—a chance to find the AND. Nanovators refuse to get caught in this “either/or” thinking. They’ve seen what can happen. During the dot com boom, everyone went crazy thinking that e-commerce would drive a stake through the heart of bricks and mortar companies. When the smoke cleared it wasn’t an either/or proposition; the genius of the AND (clicks and mortar) won out. Either/or is so obvious and so limiting. It’s usually the first answer, not the fourth or fifth one. And as we’ve said, pressing beyond the obvious and allowing limits to inspire creative solutions is a trademark of the Nanovator.

When the Nano was unveiled at the auto show in Delhi, why were people so blown away? Because their EITHER/OR paradigms had just been shattered. The Nano was simply beyond their imagination.