With the passing of Steve Jobs, many of his notable quotes have been circulating around the internet. One of his famous quips when discussing Apple was, “we do no market research,” which makes him somewhat of an anomaly in any industry. Of course, Steve Jobs was unquestionably a genius by any conceivable standard so it’s fair to assume he wouldn’t need to play by the same rules that others do.
In the same way that Mozart didn’t require piano lessons and da Vinci could comfortably skip art school, Steve was able to leverage his unusual mind to bring about products that dazzle us all. In fact, one of the best ways to spot genius at work is when something is created that you didn’t imagine was possible. Steve built a culture within Apple in which employees created products they felt they wanted, which proved to be true for the rest of us as well. This level of prescience is a rare commodity and provided an enormous benefit to Steve and everything he touched.
Given his success at creating a company that revolutionized the world of electronics multiple times (as if once wouldn’t have been sufficient), it’s tempting to treat his sentiment about market research as an instructive bit of wisdom from an innovative powerhouse. The risk in operating your business as Steve did by using an insular approach is threefold:
- You may miss an opportunity to capitalize on your customer’s wants/needs
- You may improperly target your strategy towards addressing a need/want customers don’t value
- Or worst of all, you may be operating in an environment where you don’t know what you don’t know
It is in this way that so many good companies fail to become great, or in some cases leave the scene entirely.
When you set aside whatever preconceptions you may carry about “doing research” or the research industry, at the heart of it all is the search for genuine understanding. Every business wants to better understand how it can satisfy and delight its current customers, find ways to attract new customers, and continue to grow and mature as a company. There are many ways to achieve this goal, although none of them are easy to come by. One way to protect your business against making a misstep that might prevent growth is to be certain you understand the key variables within your competitive space today. With the pace of change across all industries continually on the rise, what’s past is most certainly not prologue any longer. It’s critical that business professionals remain attuned to changes within their industries, but equally important is the need to plug into the data that can inform about non-industry changes that may prove disruptive. Having ongoing research as a component of your business helps protect your company from inadvertently positioning a blind spot within your growth strategy.
Of course, the best research in the world is not useful when placed in the hands of someone who lacks the expertise to deconstruct the data and uncover the elements that will prove valuable. Steve was able to participate in and shape literally every aspect of Apple’s creative campaigns. He developed a genuine partnership with a creative agency who knew what he wanted and was able to deliver. He was notoriously picky and would scrap an entire ad if it wasn’t up to his standards. The overwhelming success of the Apple brand is further substantiation of the intuitive precision with which Steve was able to navigate Apple back from ill health to become the world’s most valuable company. It’s easy to forget the same company regarded today as the gold standard for innovation was unprofitable when Steve returned to the helm in 1997.
Again, Steve was a unique character who seemed to possess his own internal dataset for what was going to define success for him and his company. For those who were not born with this magical ability, having empirical data to help guide decision making is a close second. Take stock of your business objectives and seek out a partner that can work with you – not to tell you what to do, but to provide insights to help you make better decisions.
So if you or someone on your staff operates in the rarified realm of Newton, Edison, Ford, or Jobs, by all means feel free to belly-up to the genius bar and skip the research. You certainly won’t have to wait for a seat, as most of those who find themselves dining there do so alone for quite some time. However, if you find this designation doesn’t quite fit, than I suggest you tread the path of “no research” very carefully, as you may find yourself with very different companions, none of whom are happy to be there. But as a thank you gift for your patronage, you will receive a red envelope carrying a DVD and an ATM card with a hefty usage fee… if that’s any consolation.
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