On Second Anniversary of Steve Jobs Death, His Approach to Product Development Remains Singular

On the second anniversary of Steve Jobs' death, we might reflect on one attribute of Apple's product development process that continues to strike some of us as highly unusual, for a company of its size and influence.

If you have spent any time working with organizations that create products or services, you know that it typically is considered valuable and reasonable to ask customers and prospects what they want from the product, and then try to create those features for them. 

That takes the form of informal meetings with buyers and most other forms of market research. Unusually, Apple under Steve Jobs did not actually act that way, which is shocking. 

"Some people say, 'Give the customers what they want,' Jobs said. "But that’s not my approach."

"Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do," said Jobs. 



"People don’t know what they want until you show it to them," Jobs famously said. "that’s why I never rely on market research."

That is a highly unusual, perhaps singularly unusual way of thinking about, and creating products. I can't think of a single other company that actually operates that way. 

People will argue about whether Apple created new markets or only reshaped them.  Nobody will argue that Apple won or lost based on a misreading of market research. It never really relied on user feedback. 

If you want to argue about whether some other company is "the new Apple," you would have to show me that such a firm has such a profound confidence in its own understanding and abilities that it will create without benefit of being "lead by customers."

Observers will differ about whether Apple can ever be the same company, after Steve Jobs. People will disagree about whether Apple can sustain its ability to envision and execute on industry-creating products. 

What most might agree upon is that no other large enterprise actually develops its products by envisioning what people will love, rather than asking them what they want. 

Granted, business to business markets arguably are different from consumer markets. But the extreme rarity of the Apple approach ("we know best") is among the enduring Apple legacies.

That "end users don't know what they want" approach is fundamentally foreign to B2B developers, virtually all of the time. Rational developers ask customers and prospects what they want, and try to give it to them. 

There's a role for that, of course. What remains unclear is whether disruptive new products get created that way. 
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