Steve Hoffman has been in China lately promoting his new book, Make Elephants Fly, and has been making the rounds on Chinese social media WeChat as well.
Recently he posted this advice for startup founders:
Don't ask your customers what products they want. They won't be able to tell you. They probably aren't product designers and can't imagine the future.
Instead ask your customers what outcomes they want. What problems are they having? What can be improved? What tasks take up too much time?
The key is getting your customers to describe the outcome they are looking for. Then your team can align the product or service that will achieve this outcome.
This advice echoes what we try to teach through our workshops and student programs. We always start with a user profile; what are they trying to accomplish, and what problems are they encountering in that process? Only later do we start brainstorming what products or services might provide the benefits they seek or relieve the pains they face.
A helpful resource for this process is the Value Proposition Canvas from Business Model Generation. It provides a simple framework for composing your value proposition, and ties right in with the companion Business Model Canvas.
So, rather than ask what products your customers want, ask them what outcomes they're looking for, then build what helps them get there.