You have heard the old story of Henry Ford stating that “if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” The adage is usually uttered when someone wants to make the point that customers don’t know what they want; that we – the product people – are superior, and that only we – the product people – know what is good for the customer. And when Henry Ford doesn’t cut it, we add a healthy dose of Steve Jobs to the mix…
Now, I believe Steve Jobs, and possibly Henry Ford, had indeed an intuitive understanding of where technology is headed, and how to best pour it into products customers want and love. But that doesn’t make the above quote true. At least not when you ask the right question.
Here is the thing: If Henry Ford (who very most likely never actually said the above statement) would have asked people just broadly enough, without preconceived notions and frames, they wouldn’t have responded with “faster horses” but rather “to get from A to B in the least amount of time and the maximum amount of comfort”. A response which opens up a whole new world for anyone wanting to solve this customer need: Yes, you can breed faster horses. But you can also invent and mass market the automobile, or an airplane, or invest heavily in teleportation devices.
Your whole world opens up if you just allow yourself to ask broad and wide enough questions. A good starting point is the famous 5 Whys or our Question Generation Workshop (free PDF Field Guide here).
Go out there and don’t be afraid of asking questions of your customers. They might not know what they want – but they do know what their problems are.