A "counter problem"
We don't see the world the same way as our customers do
Many years ago, when I was a university student, I temporarily worked in a supermarket as a loader. I had never seen a retail facility from the inside before, and several days after I started working, I noticed that my views began to change. Before that, when I had been only a client, I had believed that customers are kings and that employees should always keep them satisfied at any rate. But, looking at the situation from the opposite side of the counter, I saw that the employees worked hard, whereas customers were at times rude, and their demands sometimes were unfair. Then I learned that people's points of view depend pretty much on the side from which they look at the scene.

A strategic workshop failure

The worst-case scenario for a strategic workshop is when everyone was engaged, a group worked hard but didn't bring any practical outcome regarding new product ideas or fresh customers' values. If it happens, the leaders frequently blame the team members for not being "creative". But creativity doesn't wake up in us only because we get together somewhere outside the office and switch off our smartphones. I studied the creativity phenomenon, and I know that even though the authors of the books and scientific research on the topic have different views, their theories agree that the volume of data on an issue collected by a person and their level of creativity in this domain are tightly connected.

The brightest ideas (the ones we commonly call "creative") rarely come out of the blue to amateurs' minds. Leonardo da Vinci, Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, and Walt Disney didn't create their pictures, game-changing products, or theories by chance; it was a result of a hard and long work during which they gathered information from different, sometimes unconventional sources. For instance, Jobs studied eastern spiritual practices and was interested in calligraphy. Do executives of a company often do the same job? I am afraid they don't. Being responsible for P&L and day-to-day operations, they keep looking at the product from the same side of the "shop counter". They rarely collect any new data and, thus, don't enrich their experience.
The false consensus effect, also known as consensus bias, is a pervasive cognitive bias that causes people to assume that their personal qualities, characteristics, beliefs, and actions are relatively widespread through the general population. Among other things it means that if I believe that one notion is "good", and another one is "bad", I am convinced they my children, my neighbors, my colleagues, and you see them the same way. It biases the team members' perception on their products. On the first hand, they look at them from the same points of view for years. On the other hand, it's hard for them to admit that their customers see their goods and services differently. That's why some strategic workshops are so fruitless.

The only way to overcome this bias is to go round the "counter" and walk in a customer's shoes. Of course, there are many ways to do it, from formal market research to so-called customer development. But whatever way you choose, it is crucial for business leaders to keep their ability to look at their products and their companies from "another side of the counter".

Svyatoslav Biryulin

This text is a pice of my upcoming book "Red and Yellow Strategies". Subscribe to the articles below. Download my mini-book "KPIs that will kill your business" for free.
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