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The best business question you will ever ask

The best business question you will ever askFor the past 25 years, I have been supporting businesses to prioritise customers’ perspectives in every decision they take. James McQuivey from Forrester recently released a book about Digital Disruption; it’s a good read about how digital technology will impact the global trading environment.

I was particularly taken with James’ description of bringing the customers’ perspective into an organisation’s thinking about innovation.

In my view, this doesn’t just apply to digital innovation – it applies to all innovation and captures the best business question you will ever ask.

To summarise the point;

  • When organisations embark on innovation programmes, they typically begin with the question “How can we make a new product we can sell successfully?”
  • This first step is flawed because the words ‘make’, ‘product’ and ‘sell’ limit people’s thinking and stifle innovation.
  • The word ‘make’ focuses thinking around an organisation’s capacity to make a product it already knows how to make.
  • The word ‘product’ confines thinking to products a company already knows how to make.
  • The word ‘sell’ tends to restrict considerations to known customers and markets.

Just because the question is flawed doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It does mean, however, that innovative companies that intend to disrupt markets often have a clear field to run at.

The best question an organisation can ask itself to stimulate innovation is:

How can we give people something they really want?

This customer-centric question is powerful for several reasons:

  • The emphasis on ‘give’ rather than ‘make’ widens the scope of thinking beyond a company’s current capabilities.
  • The shift from ‘product’ to ‘people’ is important because it moves the focus from internal capabilities to the customers’ perspectives. This simple change brings the buyer into the centre of innovation development.
  • Changing the horizon from ‘sell’ to ‘want’ liberates innovative thinking to consider new markets and different customers.

More and more B2B organisations are developing and implementing innovation agendas. Whether your business is digital or not, James’ question is “spot on”.