A Tale Of Two Lists

To prepare for some of our design thinking ideation sessions, we spend time interviewing and observing our typical customer. Now, this is difficult for me sometimes because I am such a compulsive problem solver that I sometimes have a tough time just sitting there and observing. I want to jump up and help the customer do what they are trying to do – and not just let them fail for the sake of unsullied observation. But that’s what it needs to be.

The same goes for interviewing – it’s tough to question the customer without my brain spontaneously generating ideas, which I’d love to immediately share with the customer and help them make their lives better. My mind spins as I attempt not to lead the customer down the path to the multiple solutions which pop into my head but capture the customer’s experience and emotions as they are so that I can better solve the customer’s problem.

The reality is that you have to start with dumb. You are a sponge, just soaking up the customer’s story.

Try this, for example: have your customer give you a one-line description of the problem that they are having. Take that example and create a bunch of ideas to solve the problem. Don’t share those ideas with the customer. This list is the control group of ideas. Let’s call it List A.

Now talk to the customer. Ask them questions about the problem. Ask them when the problem happens, what are they doing, where are they, how are they feeling. Ask them to tell the story of the problem. Ideally, ask them to talk about everything around the problem as well – how they got to the problem and the homegrown solutions they may have for the problem (note those down as well). Have them “tell you the story of the problem – and don’t forget the juicy emotional details.”

Now, take all of that information and pull in your team. Have your group read the case and brainstorm ideas. Now take down that list of ideas. Let’s call it List B. Now, before you go to the customer, compare the two lists. More than likely, the ideas on List A are incredibly different from the ideas on List B.

Which do you think the customer will prefer?

You see, you built List A with your thoughts and biases of what the customer would want. Instead of listening to the customer and using that data to help to create your new product idea, you attempted to mind read the customer to figure out the full extent of their problem; then, you added a heavy dose of YOU into the solution.

The customer will likely prefer List B. But guess what? I’ll bet that the idea on List B seems to be more boring than the ideas on List A. The ideas on List A are probably more disruptive and out-of-the-box. Does that mean that the ideas on List A are worthless? No. It means that the ideas on List A are probably just a little further in the future than the ones on List B.

The List A ideas are perfectly reasonable, but just not for right now. They may be great ideas for a future time when the customer is more open to new ideas. Think of it as a progression – the ideas that you created for List A are the future of List B. List B is just more palatable to the customer right now. List A is for later when you’ve expanded their minds with a product from List B.

Just like that – you’ve created product ideas for today and tomorrow and, with luck, solved your customer’s pain point.