As much as we may want to think of Customers as Gods, the truth cannot be far from reality. Gods are supposedly those beings who everything and of course the future, but time and again we have been proven that the Customer community might at best know what problem they want to solve, if at all they realize what that problem is.
Henry Ford made the right decision of not asking the Customer what they wanted or even needed. At that time the Customer (as he rightly had pointed out) would have raised the requirement of faster horses and not auto-mobiles. Customers even do not understand the need of a super product till they are given one. Auto-mobiles were the best example.
Every time the world has seen a disruptive innovation, the need or want was never identified from Customers. Technology provides the solution through which only a few visionaries can provide the ideal and most innovative and breakthrough products.
Back in 1950s, when the technology of transistors, semi-conductor and other solid state devices was picking up, no one thought it was possible to create a pocket-held device so small that it could serve the same purpose of the gigantic boxes called “radios” which people used to have at their homes at the time. Marasu Ibuka, Akio Morita and other brains behind SONY revolutionized the concept of such systems with devices which became synonymous with the “need” of the Customers. These included the Walkman, Discman. Post the revolution you had other companies coming up with their ‘walkmans’ or ‘discmans’. Think of any of such breakthroughs, and you would find that the Customer God had no clue or imagination of the need or want of such a device, and only when it was made available, all that they wanted was the same device to get better. Thus post the ear of the Walkman and Discman, the Customer was still unable to envision “iPod”. Steve Jobs did. Along with the vision, what Steve Jobs could do was be the ideal salesman who knew which pressure points to press for literally instigating Customers shell big bucks to satisfy the “quench” created by Apple. Steve Jobs would not have created the 7-inch iPad mini because it is a junk device.
There have been innumerable times when the Customer God has been worshipped, instead of the True Innovators who really created the breakthrough innovations and changed our lives forever. It is this breed of innovators who always lead the way in directions of complete darkness to light the way for the rest to follow. Such people “Lead from the Front” and only such companies make an indelible mark where the Heads lead from the front without bending down to pressure or shunning from taking the decisions that becomes turning points for the company, followers, market and of course ‘Customers’.
Here is a quick example from SONY. Back in 1955 when SONY was still a relatively unknown company in USA; Bulova- a company known then had asked Akio Morita of SONY to create pocket-sized radios but market them under the name of Bulova stating that “our company name (i.e., Bulova) is a famous brand name that has taken over fifty years to establish. Nobody has ever heard your brand name (i.e., SONY). Why not take advantage of ours?” In view of Akio Morita “Fifty years ago, your brand name must have been just as unknown as our name is today. I am here with a new product, and I am now taking the first step for the next fifty years of my company. Fifty years from now I promise you that our name will be as famous as your name is today”.
This is what true Leaders and Innovators do—They Lead from the Front!
[The text in italics is an excerpt from “Made in Japan” by Akio Morita]