I strongly believe that success depends on the kind of questions you ask. Just as inspiration will meet you when you are hard at work, the right answers will only come out when you are willing to explore unknowns that lie outside your comfort zone. Just as with good art, it's uncomfortable work, but it pays off.
Here's a little story about facing the truth:
Recently I set out on a discovery to uncover the secrets to becoming more productive.
I called this quest 'Project Zero Inbox' (PZI). It is an online program about getting back on top of things. Its goal is to take our lives back by letting technology work for us instead of letting it run our day.
I created PZI because I needed it. That's how I roll, I come up with solutions for problems that I struggle with myself and while I am at it, I share the insights with you.
Sometimes, my solutions turn out to be great products for others, but most of the time they fail. To my surprise, PZI turned out to be the latter. The response was lukewarm at best.
Now, I know this sounds like one of those Silicon Valley cliches, but there is so much you can learn from 'failed' products. The experience teaches you so much about many things. It triggers the kind of questions that you wouldn't ask otherwise. The 'soul searching' is very good for you.
There are many reasons why PZI didn't turn out to be a hit. Usually, it has to do with the recurring mistake of imposing solutions that work well for me onto others. Actually, let me refine what I just said: it is the mistake of directly transposing my needs and struggles to others. The art of getting this part right also has a buzzword in startup parlance: 'Product Market Fit'.
I know there is much of a mantra going around these that goes something like: "people don't know what they want until you show it to them". Henry Ford insisted on it and Steve Jobs turned it into some sort of a religion.
At first sight, this flies in the face of those who painstakingly grind through data to understand what people really want but when you think deeper about it, most of the big data only illustrates the actions people take. I know that this is a bit of a simplistic statement because I am perfectly aware that there are some very smart people out there building solutions to extract what lies between the lines of these actions.
Behavioral science is becoming a serious business and it will eventually run the world if you ask me. Actually, in many ways, I think already does. And while all this is as fascinating as it is terrifying, I'm just a guy with a laptop and a brave little business asking myself following question:
"How can I get a map of what people are really struggling with?"
I'm talking about the stuff that truly drives people. The deeper motivations that are not always aware of at their conscious level.
Of course, you can go old school and do a survey or ask people directly what they are struggling with but the problem is that people hardly know how to express what they really want. Sometimes the knots that are too difficult to untie are often too complicated or embarrassing to put into words. Just ask David Cameron what he thinks about surveys these days...
Let's use a metaphor:
Many people have several unread books around the house. I'm sure they'd love to know what is written in them but instead, they choose to watch Netflix for hours. Often the books are there to make them look good. Does that mean that marketing a book is about its content or more about its aspirational value?
Here's another example:
The act of signing up for a gym membership feels great. It relieves the desire to get in better shape. But when it comes down to it, actually showing up and doing the work is too tall an order for most of us. Most gyms understand this and that is why they are structurally overbooked even though only a fraction of its members walk in on a regular basis.
From my own experience, what confused me was that when I put out practical, step-by-step training programs, the level of resistance goes off the charts. But when I keep it 'inspirational' and somewhat 'entertaining', people want to roll into it. In contrast, when you go out and ask about what people actually want, their conscious brain insists that they need practical content but at the same time, their inner lizard that keeps them safe wants nothing to do with learning new habits. Our lizard is a bureaucrat and it is in charge.
At first it is confusing until it isn't. I think I'm starting to figure out what is really swimming under the surface. These insights are teaching me so much about how to be more helpful to other professionals. If there is one lesson that truly stands out it is the following:
People don't really want to be told what to do. What they do love is to go to a place where they feel entertained and inspired. They want to escape to an environment where they can find the right answers to the right questions themselves.
So my job description is changing. I am no longer in the business of showing you how to do things. No, I am now a merchant of experiences where we can ask the right questions, no matter how uncomfortable the answers may feel.
And frankly, it feels like a promotion because this looks a lot more fun and rewarding :-)
So why does this matter for you?
The message here is that we often think too logically about our businesses. The most important question you can ask yourself right now is how to create the kind of experience or environment where you can truly empathise with your customers.
Another way to frame it may be: "How can you build a submarine that will take you well under the surface of your customer's world?"
Make sure to pick up a free copy of my new book on the subject
BUILD RELATIONSHIPS OF TRUST IN AN INCREASINGLY VIRTUAL WORLD
Our lives are now intertwined with technology. We have no choice but to learn how to make more meaningful human connections in a digital world!
The ability to make emotional connections in an increasingly virtual world is one of the most important skills to acquire if you want to stay ahead of the game.
The B2H book will help you think ahead and build lasting relationships of trust with the right prospects and customers.