Unarticulated needs: deep issues

December 17, 2016

My post of yesterday made the point that it is difficult to get anyone to state what they need in the absence of knowing what a new capability can achieve. Today I want to go further than that and suggest that the explicit functionalism of interviewer based inquiry creates additional problems of itself. By focusing on what do you need we place people in a position where they will respond based on what they think they ought to want. We see this in the discrepancy between opinion polls and actual ballots; there is no shame in the privacy of a polling booth. But we also see it in consumer marketing where peer pressure and the simple fact of what is available will distort views. In consumer marketing this makes real innovation more difficult and will produce a tendency to imitate. In political polling it can create false confidence and change results as individuals choose to game the system to make a point.

Remember inattentional blindness, we scan a very limited dataset and match it against past direct and vicarious experience, privileging the most recent memories; we satisfise rather than optimise. Well it applies as much to individual decision making at a consumer level as much as to expert decision making. We need to go deeper, to create a degree of cognitive load if we are to get to underlying needs. As it happens this is reasonably well known. Let me quote A.G. Lafley, the CEO of Procter and Gamble writing in Business Week back in January 2005.

I wanted to get after what we call unarticulated consumer needs. What she wants that she can’t tell us about. And there are lots of techniques we have developed or are developing to do that. And two, I wanted to focus more on the consumer experiences as much as on the product and technology.

People remember experiences. They don’t remember attributes or benefits or features. We talk a lot about how you create a delightful experience. Now, when you’re dealing with underarm deodorants and cleaning dirty floors, you have to work real hard to try and deliver a less unpleasant experience.

I that obtained that quote from a blog that claims to simplify lean six sigma, which is ironic, given that sick stigma is already so simplistic in conception for anything other than rigidly ordered systems that it can only deal with the superficial. Understanding and then responding to unarticulated needs is about dealing with the day to day experiences and then seeking to transform them. Simply arguing for better more open interviewing, better trained analysts or trivialising ethnography (many popular forms of systems thinking) is simply not good enough. It fails to realise that we are dealing with a fundamental aspect of human evolution. We need to think differently, which will be tomorrow’s subject.

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