Never ask a customer what they want…

Do not ask customers what they want when it comes to creating and introducing new technology and innovations.

Why? Because according to leading voice on innovation, Scott Anthony, managing director of Innosight Asia Pacific, “customers lie all the time… not intentionally of course, but because they cannot tell you what they want in terms of new technology, especially disruptive technology until it is in front of them.” If you don’t know what you don’t know, how can you know what you want?

These are just some of the conversations taking place at the Ci2012 Creative Innovation conference ‘Wicked Problems, Great Opportunities: Leadership and courage in volatile times,’ held in Melbourne on November 28-30, 2012. I was able to attend this great event, along with over 600 other delegates and a strong line up of some of the most innovative thinkers in the world.

As people grapple with the many changes, especially disruptive technologies and ideas, it’s worth looking at how smart companies introduce new products and concepts to markets and make buying and selling easier.


A great example of creating a synergy between buyer and seller is the revolution that is ChotuKool, which is bringing refrigeration to over 80% of the Indian population who could not access refrigeration before:

ChotuKool, a re-imagined household solution is a project driven by an innate passion to achieve a vision beyond profit. ChotuKool, a top-loading, compact and portable cooling solution, does not have a compressor. It weighs only 7.8 kgs and runs on a cooling chip along with a fan similar to those used to cool computers.

It consumes only 55 watts of power and runs on dual power supply (230V AC & 12V DC). Given the power shortage in the countryside, it can operate on battery as well and it uses high-end insulation to stay cool for hours without power. The operational cost of ChotuKool is low as it consumes half the power consumed by regular refrigerators.

The ChotuKool idea was conceived at a workshop with Prof. Clayton Christensen, world’s foremost authority on Disruptive Innovation (DI). It is a classic case of ‘co-creation’. Godrej DI team worked closely with potential consumers to get insights on their needs, desired solutions and barriers to consumption. The opportunity was shaped up by choosing relevant technology, testing various prototypes, validating market potential and developing business models.

To canvass, demonstrate and take this innovative product to villages, Godrej is developing a social entrepreneurship channel, joining hands with NGOs, self-help groups and micro-finance institutions.

George Menezes, business head of Godrej Appliances, says ‘for us at Godrej, the birth of ‘ChotuKool’ heralds a new era in the cooling space. This product will completely redefine the way brands serve the ‘Food Preservation/Refrigeration’ needs of the rural consumers and that’s a huge market!’

‘Instead, if you want to introduce disruptive technology or new innovations to create new markets are, it pays to go local and get involved with your market. Observing how your customers really think and act will give you great ideas and clues as to what to bring your customers.

The creators of ChotuKool got up close and personal to their prospective customers.

Initially, the company thought it just needed to make a mini version of a standard fridge, but once they got close and personal, they saw that this would not work.

Get closer to yoru consumers’ world

If we are really going to engage our customers, we need to get much closer to their world.

Smart companies like Godrej & Boyce Mfg. Co (the creators of ChotuKool) understand that getting close to the market help you get a feel for it, allowing you to immerse yourself in the world of your consumers.

If you want to innovate and bring new products to market, or go looking for markets that don’t exist yet, GO NATIVE.

Before you invest huge sums of money, resources and time in new product innovation, go in to the markets you want to impact and look for jobs that are not being done well at the moment. Listen to how people express their frustrations and look at how you can make their lives easier more effective.

The reason why many large companies can become oblivious to these messages is that it takes them a lot longer to feel the pain of change, whereas start-ups and smaller companies have a more direct access to markets and can hear and feel the discontent.

Insanely great ideas

A great example of someone who comprehended the importance of understanding his customer was Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. He believed that market research into new innovation was a waste of time and money.

Steve Jobs famously said: “If you ask someone what they want, when they have no idea of new innovation, they will use their present paradigm as the benchmark. The result will be an adaptation of what already exists, rather than new concepts.”

Jobs preferred meeting with customers, talking to them about what they used computers for and how they spent time. The result of these discussions and observations, without any market research, was the iPod, iPhone and iPad – all innovations that have revolutionised the world and the way things are done.

By going native and immersing yourself in your customer’s world, you will begin to see and hear how you can create innovations and ideas for your market. So while customers cannot really tell you what they want you can help them understand what they really need and give them that instead.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett,

Sue Barrett is a sales expert, business speaker, adviser, sales facilitator and entrepreneur and founded Barrett Consulting to provide expert sales consulting, sales training, sales coaching and assessments. Her business Barrett P/L partners with its clients to improve their sales operations.  Visit


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