Unhealthy Interpretations of Apple Mythology

Giff Constable innovation, lean

“And rather than listening to, or asking their customers what they wanted; Apple would solve problems customers didn’t know they had with products they didn’t even realize they wanted.” — Allworth

James Allworth over at HBR wrote a nice post on Apple and how their focus on great products, rather than optimizing profitability, helped them beat the Innovator’s Dilemma. But that line I quoted above caught my attention.

People seems to misunderstand two things.

First, what customer development and user-centered design really means

It does not mean asking customers what they want and taking statements about wants and goals at face value. Hearing a potential user describe their desires can be interesting, but requires a pretty strong filter. The product designer has to dig into customer behavior and underlying motivations. I actually do believe that user’s have goals, but I don’t believe that they always consciously know what those goals are or what priority they truly have for different goals. And if you really want to talk innovation, you want to satisfy and then transcend immediate goals and move to¬†what the user’s goals could and should be.

Second, the mythology that products just sprang from Steve Jobs’ brilliant vision like Athena from Zeus

I haven’t worked for Apple, but from what I hear from folks who know, Apple does test. Rigorously. They just do it quietly. They spend an enormous amount of time on understanding their customers. They obsess over their NPS scores. They do a ton of prototypes and iterations, some of which is employee-only (or employee family only) but I have heard that it isn’t entirely employee-only. Google has repeatedly shown the myopic dangers of only testing internally in an organization. Steve Jobs acted as editor-in-chief and clearly had a strong hand, but let’s not get tripped up by mythology. Apple was not about genius intuition to the exclusion of the customer at all.