It's not the consumers job to know what they want

InnovationThat quote from Steve Jobs in a story entitled ‘The Yin and the Yang of Corporate Innovation‘ by Steve Lohr (@SteveLohr) in the New York Times this morning.

Lohr was commenting on the different ways Apple and Google have historically approached innovation.

The Google model relies on rapid experimentation and data. The company constantly refines its search, advertising marketplace, e-mail and other services, depending on how people use its online offerings. It takes a bottom-up approach: customers are participants, essentially becoming partners in product design.

The Apple model is more edited, intuitive and top-down. When asked what market research went into the company’s elegant product designs, Steve Jobs had a standard answer: none. “It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want,” he would add.

LexBlog has added a senior leadership team over the last couple years. Though the team members have worked in smaller companies before, they bring experience from also working in the likes of Microsoft, Mitsubishi, and REI. I’ve also had the experience of working at LexisNexis for 18 months after my last company, Prairielaw.com, was acquired by them.

Larger companies tend to want to survey people and test a product’s use, before double downing and getting the product to market. It’s tough for me to work with people from those companies because I am more of the thinking that consumers don’t know what they want until you give it to them.

Imagine if Jeff Bezos asked the public if they wanted to buy books over the Internet. Most people in the mid 90’s would have responded “What’s the Internet?” Bezos believed in his vision that the Amazon experience would wow people. He was right.

Though Google is described as bottom-up in approach taking the consumer into account, had Google asked the public if they wanted search in 1998, the answer would have been no. Heck, LexisNexis didn’t see the value in Internet search in 2001 when it limited the user generated content it would pay to have searched (companies bought search back in those days from companies like Atomz.)

In 2003, when I started blogging and reading the few law blogs that were ought there, I thought a blog was the perfect medium for lawyers to build trust and enhance their reputation.

Despite the fact that blogs were free, I believed law firms and attorneys would be pay thousands of dollars in annual subscriptions for a professional turnkey blog solution. A solution that covered all the bases of strategy, design, development, hosting, coaching, and SEO.

I never asked attorneys or law firms if they would buy a turnkey solution. I put the infrastructure in place, pulled a team together, and started selling. It wasn’t until people started taking money out of their pockets and putting it into mine that I knew I had something.

I also believed that getting feedback from people who were vested in my success (the people paying for my product) was much more important than random information from surveys before hand. I got the product out there and put in the sidewalks after I saw where people were walking.

LexBlog’s approach to innovation has been a little bit Apple and a little bit Google. I’m not one to ask what people want before hand, but I do want my customers to be participants in our continued product development.

Kevin O'Keefe
About the Author

Trial lawyer turned legal tech entrepreneur, I am the founder and CEO of LexBlog, a legal blog community of over 30,000 blog publishers, worldwide. LexBlog’s publishing platform is used on a subscription basis by over 18,000 legal professionals, including the largest law firm in each India, China and the United States.

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