A while ago, Nicki was preparing a presentation for SheSays and she asked me for my take on where good ideas come from.
Tough one to answer given there is never going to be one right answer to this question (how boring would it be if there was?) but I replied:
Working with potential users introduces an element of chaos into the creative process. By bringing in this foreign element you set the scene for serendipitous discovery.
Lately this has been bothering me. Very few people seem to see customer development as an approach which can fuel creativity and good thinking. In fact, worryingly, some even view it as a replacement for these vital elements in the product development process.
I have a hypothesis that people who do this are focused on solutions not problems.
Either they think they have an amazing idea and want to get it confirmed by 'research' or they don't know what to do and want someone else to tell them the answer. Invariably these people are obsessive about numbers and percentages. They want to know that 38.9% say they would do a thing versus 17.2% who would prefer something else versus 23.5% who want a mix of the two versus 12.6% who just want to go home now. Although in fact those percentages are never so clear cut. They are produced via a tortuous and opaque process of adding, subtracting and dividing hundreds of answers to epicly hellish surveys, which by the way, probably gave your respondents decision fatigue. They would kind of, sort of like anything after getting through that. Every single one of these insights is a little golden nugget of bullshit.
What I think is important, and please get back to me in the comments if you disagree, is being so fucking passionate about the problem you want to solve that you'd be crazy not to try and understand it through the eyes of your audience. It's not about asking people what they want. And it's really difficult, that's why there won't ever be a handbook for this stuff. Sure there are tools, tips and techniques, and it's amazing to find out how other people approach it, but it can't be distilled into one definitive process.
Because there's a thing that has to happen between learning more about the people you want to make something for and figuring out what to make, and it involves using your brain.
It has also been directly inspired by some real life work experiences which shall not be named.
I'd love to know what you think about this in the comments. How do you get around gung-ho market research driven solutioneering?