Great article by Gianfranco Zaccai on why focus groups don’t deliver great product innovations.

“Focus groups aren’t useless. They can be insightful for fine-tuning something for the short term. But true innovation is about more than just incremental improvement, it’s about revolutionizing a product or a service; in fact, it should be about redefining an experience. A Swiffer is still recognizable as a mop; a Reebok Pump is still a basketball shoe; an Aeron Chair is still an office chair. But in each case, the innovation embedded into the product created a real change in people’s lives.

“Put another way, oftentimes designers are asked to make evolutionary improvements, making something look a little better or improving its ergonomics. Revolutionary ideas are riskier, and take longer to do, but when they are successful, they allow you to completely change the paradigm. No focus group has ever done that.”

Film companies often finish a film based on questionnaires from test audience members, often re-editing major parts of the film. Look at how that differs from theater productions of new plays, where the director and playwright stand in the back of the house during previews and just feel where the audience is with them and where they’re not. They don’t have to ask, they go to the customer experience and see what works and what doesn’t.

Do you do that in you’re business? Do you know where your customer experience is working? Do you know where it’s not? Don’t ask your customers. You have to find it yourself.

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