“You can’t just ask customers what they want” Steve Jobs

Written by Paula Gray

The introduction of the Apple iPad has spawned a flurry of Tweets and reTweets of Steve Jobs’ famous quote “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.” Jobs is right.  It is inherently difficult for a human to articulate what it is they really want in a product.  Here me out.  I am not saying that there is lack of opinion, everyone has one of those, but what I am saying is that humans do not understand their own needs and motivations deeply enough to communicate them effectively.  This is one of the reasons that many companies are turning to anthropologists to dig deeper into the cultural-psycho-social context within which those customers live.

Steve Jobs has the ability to tap into the wider cultural trends and anticipate their shifts and turns.  He is part of the very group he targets. He sees the trends from both the inside and the outside.  Though it may seem that Jobs stands alone in this ability, this is precisely the perspective an anthropologist can offer a company.  So you may not be able to “just ask customers what they want” but with an anthropologist on the team a company can more effectively anticipate the larger cultural wave those customers are riding.

Paula Gray
the anthropologist

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About the author

Paula Gray

Paula Gray is an anthropologist and the Director of Research and Knowledge Development at AIPMM. She has traveled the globe to work with companies throughout the US, Europe, Africa and Asia-Pacific to help them gain a deeper understanding of their customers. She is featured in Linda Gorchels' book The Product Manager's Handbook and has contributed to several books on product management including The Guide to the Product Management and Marketing Body of Knowledge (ProdBOK). She is also the author of numerous blog posts and papers including Business Anthropology and the Culture of Product Managers.