You have heard the gospel of customer-led development. Design thinking asks you to go out, observe and talk to your customers, learn about their problems and challenges, and then develop solutions. These solutions you later run through a ‘Lean Startup’-inspired process to validate and iterate on them until you get to product/market fit.

This is all fine and good — if you are building a sustaining innovation (that is: an innovation that is an incremental improvement upon the status quo).

Should you try to disrupt the market, it is often counterproductive to follow your customer. Tweet This Quote

Should you try to disrupt the market, it is often counterproductive to follow your customer, as your customer operates from the frame of the known. Typically, all they can tell you is that they want what they have today but better, faster and cheaper.

If the AirBnB founders would have interviewed hotel-booking travelers, they would have learned that those travels yearn for a better check-in experience, a faster and more seamless checkout, and a free minibar – none of which would have led to the disruptive invention of AirBnB.

Uber would have learned that people want to pay for their taxi with a credit card and maybe order it on their phones, but surely not ride in the private car of a stranger.

That is all to say this: it is good to observe, as you can glean an incredible amount of insight from watching people go through the motions; but depending on the disruptive potential of your innovation, it might not make all that much sense to talk (and listen) to your customers.

This originally published on Pascal’s blog, The Heretic.

Pascal Finette

Author Pascal Finette

Pascal is the Managing Director of Singularity University's Startup Lab. He is also an entrepreneur, coach, and speaker who has worked in Internet powerhouses, such as eBay, Mozilla, and Google, and Venture Capital—starting both a VC firm and accelerator program.

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