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Leading Apple With Steve Jobs: Management Lessons From a Controversial Genius by Jay Elliot

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What Customers and Competitors Can and Can’t Tell You

Steve liked to say, “Customers can’t tell you about the next breakthrough.” That’s part of the reason he didn’t believe in market research: “Customers don’t know the next big thing until they see it.”

While the industry was busy trying to figure out the so-called tablet market, Steve kept his teams busy creating the iPad, so much ahead that it was virtually a brand new category and left everyone else playing catch up. That’s what Steve did: He developed products, not concepts. There is not a lot of time or money spent by Apple on concepts. The Xerox PARC story highlights the downside of investing in concepts. Think of what Xerox could have been—the next IBM, Microsoft, or Apple! Good ideas drive good products, but only when they are part of an overall product vision.

Apple under Steve Jobs probably did less market research than any other major product company in the world. Steve loved the quote from Henry Ford, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses.’ ”

Yet in the real world that the rest of us inhabit, you have to in some way get input in terms of how your product is being viewed in the market—how people are using it and what their issues are. Start by asking your customers.

Also, if you have competitors, what are they doing? Use the information, but don’t get hung up on it. Near the end of his life, Steve violated this principle, which had been one of our operating principles from the ...

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