Product development for the best companies, including Apple, never stops. Steve Jobs once said, “I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.”
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How do you know what might be next? One way is to look at what’s come before. Indeed, the magic of Apple has always been turning what’s come before into what’s next:
- A Xerox research team first introduced an icon-based interface for a computer in 1973. Apple perfected the concept with the Mac operating system in which commands are triggered by mouse clicks.
- The first mobile phone was introduced in 1987. The iPhone was introduced in 2007, into a market in which Blackberry was the dominant mobile device maker. Apple introduced an easy-to- use touch display for a device that served primarily as a hand- held computer, but was also a mobile phone.
- Back in the 1950s, you could put a quarter in a jukebox to pick songs and play them in any order you wanted. Apple’s iPod let you do the same thing for 99 cents a song, and carry the entire jukebox around with you in your pocket.
- The PC industry correctly assumed that mobile users wanted something lighter and more portable than laptops. They came up with “netbooks.” Apple came up with the iPad.
Apple is better than most at building better mousetraps. There are several interrelated components to the company’s success, including quality manufacturing, great customer service, wide distribution and, particularly in the case of Steve Jobs, vision coupled with great salesmanship. Jobs was a singular character, but every business can find inspiration in his ability to evolve a product into the next big thing. Jobs’ success follows a few basic principles:
1. Customer Behavior is More Important than Customer Feedback
Steve Jobs famously disdained focus groups, contending that,“people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Similarly, Henry Ford is supposed to have said if he asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.
Indeed, according to at least one study, customer feedback data can be highly misleading. Customers tend to want more of what they already have, which is fine for growing your installed base, but doesn’t help you break out with a new product category or market segment.
Instead of asking customers what they want, experts recommend observing their behavior. Companies can use social media to see what customers react to and how, and can track behaviors online in a variety of ways.
2. You’re Not Steve Jobs or Henry Ford
Most companies aren’t making game changing products like the iPod. So the same rules don’t apply. Just ask Ron Johnson, ousted CEO of JC Penney, who disdained the need to solicit customer feedback because, “We didn’t test at Apple.” Problem was, he was working for a troubled retail store, and needed customer feedback to figure out how to fix what was broken.
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3. Engage Customers as Co-Creators
Think of customers less as buyers of product, and more as co- innovators. One study shows that 60 percent of commercially successful innovations across nine industries originated from customers. Thanks to the Internet, you can build communities of users to test new product features, solve problems, and suggest future growth strategies. Here are some examples cited by InnovationPoint:
- Boeing’s World Design Team includes 120,000 people on a message board to discuss what they like and dislike about air travel and features they’d like to on airplanes.
- BMW offers a toolkit on its website to develop ideas for in-car telematics.
- Lego invites customers to program its Mindstorm toy robot, thus enabling capabilities it never offered.