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The Lean Entrepreneur: How Visionaries Create Products, Innovate with New Ventures, and Disrupt Markets by Eric Ries, Patrick Vlaskovits, Brant Cooper

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Listen to Your Customers—or Not

In the entrepreneurial world, is there any more divisive a topic than the proper role of the customer in innovative endeavors? Other than the (near) universal acceptance that customers should either pay for product or amass in such numbers that they can be otherwise monetized, advice on how customers should influence your business decisions is all over the map. Countless books, blogs, and bloviating business gurus repeat common customer cliches: customer is king, be customer driven, the customer is always right, and so forth. Yet, it’s not too difficult to find link-bait headlines claiming the exact opposite: Ignore your customer; “Mark Cuban on Why You Should Never Listen to Your Customers”;1 and Steve Jobs, who supposedly said, “We do no market research,” yada, yada, yada.

The thing is, both sides are right.2

This brings us to an innovation axiom: The more disruptive the solution, the less you can believe what customers say they need or what they will do. Innovation is an overused, tired word, but let’s say that innovation refers to meaningful change, forgetting for a moment its use as buzzwordy, marketing hype.

Clayton Christensen coined the term sustaining technology to refer to meaningful technology change that improves existing products for an existing market. In other words, both the problem and solution are known. The value stream is understood and has been translated into specific processes that are being executed and, ideally, continuously ...

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