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  2.4. Entrepreneurs Innovate and Customers Validate (4 min.)

One of the critical keys to innovation is to remember that customers don’t innovate. Entrepreneurs innovate and customers validate. Although we argued earlier that market insights come from understanding customer needs—and we will repeatedly emphasize the importance of interacting with customers—we also argue that customers can’t innovate for you. Ultimately it is the job of the entrepreneur to do the hard work of innovation. If you make the mistake of relying entirely on your customers to create a solution for you, you will likely find unsurprising and unimaginative responses that don’t actually solve the pain.

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As an example, several years ago Kawasaki was the leading producer of jet skis. Kawasaki observed that customers felt a very literal pain from having to ride their jet skis standing up. Wanting to respond to the customer pain, the designers at Kawasaki asked customers how to solve the problem, and customers suggested thicker padding to protect their legs. Like good listeners, Kawasaki did just as customers asked and added more padding. However, more innovative competitors realized something customers hadn’t suggested: a seat is more comfortable than standing, no matter how much padding you have. When Kawasaki’s competitors came out with the new, seated jet skis they stole so much market share from Kawasaki that Kawasaki lost their market lead forever to innovative new market entrants such as SeaDoo and Wave Runner by Yamaha.

Steve Jobs said, “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.” Therefore, it is the entrepreneur’s job to observe a customer pain and then connect that with an invention to solve a market problem.

(See Nail It Then Scale It, pgs. 29-31)