Steve Jobs was wrong: The customer knows best in the age of crowd-sourcing

David Richards
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For Jobs, being a “crazy one” was about having the vision to look beyond the status quo (Source: Getty)
Apple's 1997 “Think Different” campaign stands out as one of the major turning points in that company’s history. It was a message that Steve Jobs and his innovative spirit had returned to the firm, after he left in 1985.

Jobs was as famous for championing the misfit as for saying that, in business, you won’t succeed if you simply ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. It’s an inspiring sentiment and one that continues to resonate with entrepreneurs and business leaders to this day. For Jobs, being a “crazy one” was about having the vision to look beyond the status quo with a commitment to disruption.

I’m all for championing those with the courage to pursue an idea, those with an unwavering belief in spite of adversity or a prevailing mood to the contrary.

Yet I firmly believe that asking your customer what they think can never be a bad policy. While it’s tempting to assume that customers can be told what they need by a legion of entrepreneurial white knights, business doesn’t always work like that. Indeed, when you look at the companies that make up 2015’s billion-dollar club, it appears the opposite is true.

Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Uber or Airbnb, the success of today’s biggest firms is borne from an ability to quickly adapt in response to feedback from users and customers. Indeed, it’s this capability that makes these new business models truly disruptive, built as they are on environments that allow for constant innovation and change. To this end, companies have grown more adept at crowd-sourcing customer opinion.

In business, the customer is king – always has been, always will be – and recent developments have only reinforced this for my company’s sector, the big data industry.

The tech community is fond of talking up big data’s promise, given its potential to disrupt industries the world over. But despite maturing at an extraordinary rate, organisations are still figuring out how to best implement the technology, with a recent report from Wikibon finding that just 18 per cent of users are happy with the results they are seeing.

I firmly believe that big data technologies will help take business to the next level, but you cannot ignore what end users are telling you. For WANdisco, this only served as a further reminder that customer-focused strategies are at the heart of every successful business.

It’s for this reason that we recently launched a new product designed to better address the realities of the market, delivering efficiency and quality that makes big data easier for global businesses to implement. WD Fusion ensures users are able to use Hadoop with unmatched flexibility, promoting agility and choice regardless of how data centres are configured.

The success of a Steve Jobs product wasn’t a result of refusing to ask customers if they wanted it. They really did want it – he was just so skilled that he didn’t need to ask.

Like Jobs, the most successful and revolutionary entrepreneurs are wired to draw new and imaginative connections from the human information they interact with. They are all, in essence, crowd-sourcers.

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