Trust Your Gut? Or Your Research?


There’s a story told about Steve Jobs – it concerns the case for the first iMac. Computer cases at the time came in any colour you wanted, as long as it was somewhere between white and a deeply unattractive beige. And if you were a PC manufacturer, they cost you about $20.

Jobs changed all that. The case for the iMac would be in Bondi Blue and boy, did it ever look different. It cost different as well – three times the price of the white/beige industry standard.

The story is that Jobs made the decision on instinct – at the most it took him half an hour. Other companies would have demanded extensive research, presentations, studies, analysis, focus groups. Jobs trusted his gut instinct.

Not that trusting your gut instinct started with Apple – as Henry Ford so famously said, “If I’d listened to what my customers wanted I’d have given them faster horses.”

But Steve Jobs seems to have built a company on gut instinct and not going down the traditional research-driven route of listening to your customers. As Jobs put it, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Looking at it from a personal point of view (and yes, I realise that Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Ed Reid isn’t quite the progression you’d expect) I consider myself to be naturally logical. I like to think about decisions before I make them – weigh up the pros and cons and come to a logical decision. And yet I trust my gut instinct – a lot.

When I first made the decision to start my own business I looked at several different opportunities: three or four of them made a lot of sense. The numbers looked good and there seemed to be plenty of potential for the future. But somehow, they just didn’t ‘feel’ right.

The Alternative Board did. From the very first moment that I heard the concept I knew it was right for me – and I knew I could make the emotional commitment that I couldn’t have made to some of the other very logical opportunities.

With TAB York now approaching its fourth birthday I’ve found that gut instinct serves me well in another area – finding new Board members. Again, I can do all the analysis and research I want – but someone who’s going to be a great Board member has something indefinable, and you can recognise it immediately.

The current vogue in business is to ‘listen to your customers.’ If you’ll only listen to your customers, the mantra goes, they’ll tell you what they want. And that’s true – whether you’re a business, the BBC or the NHS, your customers are great at telling you what they want. But they’re not so good at providing the solutions – that remains your job.

There’s another problem with listening to your customers as well: when they’ve finished telling you what they want, they’ll also tell your competitors what they want. And it’ll be the same thing.

That’s when you need to become Henry Ford or Steve Jobs – and give your customers more than what they want. Give them what they didn’t know they wanted. You can only do that by trusting your gut instinct – because in the final analysis input from your customers is just that: input. It’s not an idea and it’s not a solution.

My gut instinct now is to have a glass of wine and turn it over to you. What works for you? How do you make your crucial decisions? Hours of research – or do you trust your gut?

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4 comments

  1. Ed Roberts · April 19, 2013

    Ed, I think a glass of wine at 8am on a Friday morning is just what’s required! Whether that stems from research or my gut, I’m not sure but might help me make better decisions!

    • edreidyork · April 19, 2013

      Ah yes, Ed – you’ve caught me out there. You may choose not to believe this, but occasionally time of writing and time of publishing is different!!

  2. Dave Rawlings · April 19, 2013

    Sorry to bring everyone down by talking about Total Quality (remember that?) but the Japanese invented a method for relating “customer requirements” to the “design requirements” of a new product. For the example of a car, the former would be things like comfort, performance, economy, looks, internal space, street cred etc. The latter would be the technical stuff: engine specs, chassis and steering, materials etc. The trick is to come up with a technical package that delivers the customer benefits.
    Apple are good at that. They also seem to be able to think up those customer requirements that customers haven’t yet expressed, “what they didn’t know they wanted”. “Gut instinct” describes it very well!

  3. edreidyork · April 19, 2013

    Hi Dave – thanks for your input. I hadn’t heard the Japanese example of bringing together “design” and “customer” requirements; often easier said than done!

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