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Planning for 2012: Ask Your Customers, Ask Your Employees, Ask Your Vendors. Ask And Keep Asking.

Some of the greatest innovations have come from people who figured out what people wanted before they even knew. In the case of things like power brakes and power steering in the late 1940s, the automobile manufacturers figured out that many more people would be driving in postwar America-more women especially. They didn’t ask if people wanted those innovations. They asked how they wanted life to go and how they would be using their cars. Steve Jobs was famous for not asking what people wanted in a computer or a phone. He and his colleagues figured out how to design technological devices designed to operate in certain ways that would change people’s lives.

So, the purpose of asking is not to justify your latest brainstorm, but to find out what people are thinking, what they are worried about, what would save them time or make life easier in other ways. Then you brainstorm and figure out the breakthrough ideas that give them what they didn’t know they wanted. (Of course, there is still plenty of opportunity to prosper in giving people what they say they want that is better than what they have.) The point is never stop asking. Never stop asking what your customers have on their minds. Never stop asking what employees are seeing and hearing from customers and prospects. Never stop asking your vendors what they think and what they see coming. Look for the patterns; brainstorm the ideas that address the patterns and go to market.