How to listen to the users

1 minute read

When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
— Neil Gaiman (2010) Ten Rules for Writing Fiction

This is a beautiful advice, and one of the biggest misconception about feedback. While it’s very easy to say “I want this” it’s very often the wrong way to frame feedback. The best feedback explains the why, the pain, the need. Without solution.

In this context I often quote also:

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.
— Henry Ford

This sentence is not just likely mis-attributed, but it’s also used wrongly to show that innovation comes from a magical place and you shouldn’t listen to people. The problem as explained above is that this is a solution not a problem, and any researcher will know that if a user tells you this, you have to follow up with “why?”.

Asking why to the quote above could have led to a lot of different, different insight and innovations. Imagine the following answers to that follow-up “Why do you need faster horses?”:

  • Because I my merchandise otherwise will rot — This would lead to a network of warehouses like Amazon has today, or to a better way to preserve food.
  • Because I want to get faster on the other side of the city — This might lead to the car, but quite soon also to subways.
  • Because I want my letters to reach faster my friends — This would lead to a way to transmit text, like for example… internet.

And so on…

Always ask why. ;)

Via Bokardo.