Years ago I wrote a Kindle book about failed startups. In those “28 Lessons from Startups that Failed” the most frequent misstep was a failure to understand customers. Too often, founders ignored iterations of feedback and charged into building without experimenting. They failed to make Small Bets where people can rake in the winnings or shake off the losses. Instead they just failed, often completely.

A lot of those founders had decent to good ideas. Some seeds succeeded in another’s field.

The IDEO design studios offer an example of what good talking to and listening to your customers embodies. When CEO Tim Brown gives tours, guests ask where the design teams are. Their expectations are spartan offices, blocks of clay, walls of white., and teams of people crowded around. It’s not like that at all Brown says. It’s much more messy with sticky notes and teams everywhere. The teams aren’t isolated, they’re implanted. Brown wrote in the book, Change by Design:

“Walk into the offices of any of the world’s leading design consultancies, and the first question is likely to be ‘Where is everybody?’ Of course, many hours are spent in the model shop, in project rooms, and peering into computer monitors, but many more hours are spent out in the field with the people who will ultimately benefit from our work.”

Even Steve Jobs, the man IDEO designed the first Apple Mouse for, the man who said the customer doesn’t know what they want until you show them, got feedback from his customers. Jobs and Apple didn’t look for the explicit feedback, to make things smaller or larger or denser or wider or whiter. No, Apple looked for the latent needs of customers. What are the things the customer really wants?  We’ll look at that tomorrow.