Paralysis from analysis is all too common.  Why? Because for the longest time people have assumed that it's possible to predict the future by studying history.  And there has been ample belief that if you ask customers questions, they will give you the answers which will guide your future.  Further, people want to believe that it was possible to find hidden meaning via discovering previously unseen correlations — even though almost all these sorts of low-score correlations turn out to be spurious, merely mathematical artifacts. 

Readers of this blog know that when we investigated The Phoenix Principle we learned that  traditional market research rarely improves understanding of customers or markets.  And we learned that customers are incredibly unreliable at telling you what they really want, or what they are likely to do next.

Nate Bolt of market research firm Bolt Peters now confirms this.  His recent column at "Stop Listening to Your Customers" is an indictment of traditional market research observed through his 9 years working with clients in the field.

  • "A common assumption… is that listening to
    potential customers is the best way to find out whether your product or
    idea will succeed in the market. Honestly — don’t bother."
  • "Opinions are often inconsistent with behaviors or other attitudes,
    especially when discussing hypotheticals."
  • "Remember 'Clippy" the little character that appeared in Microsoft Word years ago? That
    little bastard arose, in part, from Microsoft asking users if they
    wanted help working on their documents — everyone said, “Sure, sounds
    great.” But once people started actually using it in the real world,
    they hated it
    — it might be one of the most hated features in the
    history of computing."
  • "Never ask people what they think of your product or idea."
  • "Test ideas early by watching behavior. It’s fine if you
    don’t have a 100 percent functional interface — having eight people
    interact with a prototype or even wireframes or design mockups can be
    incredibly useful. Even recruiting strangers from the street to use your
    prototype is better than nothing."
  • "Use unorthodox methods. Companies like Apple and
    37signals make a big deal about never conducting user research. They lie… Releasing products in generations, like Apple does, provides them with
    mountains of reviews, task-specific complaints, crash reports, customer
    support issues, and Genius Bar feedback

Too much money is spent on research that can never, by it's design and method, tell the business what it needs to know.  The only way to know how to compete is to get into the market.  Quit trying to analyze – go do it!  An ounce of  "doing it" is worth a kilogram of research and analysis.  Get out of the office, out of the conference room, and into the market.  Set up a White Space team and make them responsible for launching, learning, reporting and figuring out what customers want that you can sell at a profit.  That feedback is the research which is really worthwhile.  It's faster, easier to get and more accurate than anything you'll get from a market study or focus group!

Nate Bolt's new book is "Remote Research."  The link I found to the book was at