Shouldn’t we always listen to our customers if we want to create great products?
Yes and no.
Blindly following the maxim that good managers should keep close to their customers can sometimes be a fatal mistake.Clayton Christensen – The Innovator’s Dilemma
Clayton Christensen goes on to outline the dilemma we face as product managers. By listening to our customers we can create sustaining innovation. We can keep making our product more and more as our customers want it to be. And when we ignore our customers, we will most likely create a product that they don’t want.
But taking that risk is also how we find new products that replace existing products and disrupt industries, or disruptive innovation as Clayton Christensen calls it.
Consider a mainframe manufacturer that kept producing better mainframes but scoffed at desktop computers. Desktop computers at first were less powerful, less capable, and toys compared to a powerful mainframe. Besides the existing mainframe customer is certainly going to ask for a better mainframe, not a weak alternative.
Truthfully the first desktop computer was likely not a good fit for the typical customer of mainframes, but as we now know they’d eventually disrupt the mainframe business model.
So as you look at your product today, what would you reconsider if you didn’t listen to your customer?