Balancing your (good) beliefs with the user needs.

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

Henry Ford ( not really )1

From time to time you’ll ear this one (or a variant of) in a discussion for some in-house innovation project that requires guidance whether from the armchair or crowd. It poses as the checkmate move from the belief side of the argument, uttered by a product executive, manager and defended by those without the decision responsibility, where the hubris is strong.

Forget the sentence’s author and focus on the argument itself ( it’s always the best option ).

Is it really possible to create something amazing for your potential users that could be a paradigm shift on solving one or even more of their problems and doesn’t require any input from any prospect? Or maybe something more humble but still a change for the better.

Yes, of course.

The final user priors aren’t a requirement to build a successful product. Examples of ideas from the ether abound, and it will not be hard to find grand narratives of individualistic creativity.

Sometimes, the idea fails fast. This is a good scenario for everyone but don’t think that it is over yet. “I’m just ahead of time” and “just you wait and see” will be your pause button of the discussion. “I told you so” will be the play action in a far future when something reasonably similar makes the cut. Authorities will excuse themselves of failure using this rhetoric. This one is oh so pernicious because the listener might fall for the narrative fallacy trap and start believing that the messiah is real. In “The Design of Everyday Things” you’ll find an excellent example but I will not spoil it. Take a look and get back to me if you find it.

But there is always a but right?

For developing products, services, companies or truly world impacting ideas, that aren’t only ideology, you don’t need and you shouldn’t play probabilities from the armchair. You can eschew random choices and skew your path in the direction of the best available scenarios. How to do it? There is enough literature to help you with that and I would add very little to it. My product syllabus reading list might be overwhelming at first but I would point as a starting point “The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Startups That Win“.

The ratio of one success for each ten tries that Steve Blank mentions should be enough of a deterrent to avoid going all in with your future product. Due diligence may help avoid that one to ten and make it a miserable three in ten but surely you can see the better deal.

Don’t be the victim of your belief in the survivors. Avoid the product hero who’s tunnel vision doesn’t see failure in his path. Go find your clients before they are.