Be a Trailblazer!

Customer focus groups are often maligned, yet most large corporations still rely on them to dictate future plans and provide feedback on their products. While this information might be of some use, it is often typically misused by those who wish to provide cover for their decisions. After all, if the focus group liked it, how could we have guessed it would fail?

True visionaries, however, find great success by anticipating what their customers will want. When Walt Disney first came up with the idea for DISNEYLAND, he wasn’t building something that people had asked for; he was building something he knew people would love once they saw it for the first time. Opening day cast members recall confusion among guests as to how they should proceed through the park. Did they have to visit the attractions in the order in which they were listed in the guidebook? How should they act within the park? If one had asked these people in 1950 if they wanted a theme park, they probably would have said no. Once they entered Mr. Disney’s Magic Kingdom, however, they couldn’t imagine a world without it.

“Walt Disney’s secret was to do things you don’t need, and do them well. And then you realize you needed them all along.”

-Ray Bradbury

Walt Disney isn’t the only person who has understood this concept; Steve Jobs did as well. Jobs didn’t use focus groups or feedback to gauge what his customers wanted. He looked to the future to visualize what people would eventually want, then gave them exactly that. By applying this sort of vision, he would reap huge rewards when the world flocked to snap up the devices they didn’t even realize they wanted until they first saw them.

“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

-Steve Jobs

So how can this idea be applied to everyday life? Great success can be yours by anticipating what your customers and clients will want versus what they tell you they want. Staying ahead of the curve will reap you and your organization huge rewards.


Many organizations like to talk about how laidback and open they are. Why the head of the organization has an open door policy! Feel free to pop in anytime!

Except- hardly any of these organizations ever actually work this way. Going into the boss’ office is a good way to find yourself at HR collecting your final check. Management says they want openness, but try providing feedback that isn’t positive and you’ll quickly find yourself labeled a problem.

How can you tell if the organization isn’t practicing what it preaches without getting into trouble? Take a look at your e-mail inbox. Did a request from upper management get forwarded to multiple places before getting sent to you? Do you only see the organization’s leader at big, important meetings? You can safely assume that the open door is really just a trap.

Is the lack of an open door workplace a problem? Not really. That sort of structure might not be a good fit for every organization. The big problem with saying there’s an open door policy but not really having one is that employees can see that management is not being genuine. Often the first thing employees hear on day one is how open and collegial things are within the company. If the first thing they hear is easily proven to be untrue, distrust of the organization starts early on. Most of the time it probably won’t matter, but it’s just as easy to be honest, so why start things off on the wrong foot?

Resource Burglars

Every organization has them; when annual meetings occur to prioritize projects and plan out the next year, they agree with the majority and play nice with management. However, once they get back to their offices, they forget what they agreed to and start trying to get their projects pushed through regardless of the strain on resources.

It seems like it should be easy to avoid these pitfalls, but resource burglars are often very clever. They may try to sneak their projects through as regular everyday requests. By the time the resources figure out the con, well, might as well finish things up, right?

The easiest way to avoid these conflicts is to make sure that everyone in the organization knows and understands what the priorities are. A good way to do this is to put the goals in writing and prominently display them in the office. It’s hard to ignore an agreement that is visible to everyone.

Goals and priorities do change, but it is important to make sure that your group is protected from being taken advantage of. Be flexible, but be careful to alert decision makers what the trade-off might be. Every change will result in some delay for another project. Make sure everyone involved is aware of the consequences and potential drawbacks.