innovation | April 25, 2013

Watch What Your Customers Do—Don't Ask What They Want: Douglas Merrill

Innovation speaker Douglas Merrill wants you to listen to what your customers want. Pretty straight-forward advice, right? Well, not exactly. The Co-Founder and CEO of doesn't want you to ask your customers about their wants and needs. Instead, he advises you to study their behavior on the sidelines and draw conclusions on what direction to take with your products from there. "When I say listen to your customers," he says in this keynote, "I mean watch what they do, not ask them what they want. If you watch what they do cleverly, you can build really cool products."

Why exactly does he say it makes more sense to study consumer behaviors, and then track and analyze the data rather that asking your customers outright? Because, he says, people know what they want—but they don't always know how to explain that to you. Often, this is because the product they really want isn't out there yet and as such, they can't really envision what it would look like. That's where having an effective strategy for innovation comes in. And, as he adds, the most important part of any innovation strategy is ensuring that the products you create are actually going to be relevant to your customer's needs.

In the talk, Merrill shares lessons learned from his time as COO of New Music at EMI Group and as the former Chief Information Officer at Google. Laid back and comfortable on the stage (even cracking a few jokes to keep the audience engaged), Merrill teaches audiences how to build a culture of innovation in their own organizations. Accessible and strikingly clear, he hones in on the key components to making your company successful through giving your customers what they want—or, what they don't know even know they want yet.

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design | April 24, 2013