Creating yes men and generating tainted feedback
I love the Apprentice generally, and I love it specifically because Lord Sugar always has the candidates out doing ‘market research’ by asking people what they think about their product ideas. The market research that they do is almost always a pointless waste of time, but at least the sentiment is there. Listen to your customers.
The 2013 Apprentice final was no disappointment in this respect. Market research, tick. Pointless waste of time, tick.
Finalist Luisa was setting up a baking supplies business, and she went out to speak to a bakery shop owner. At the appointment, Luisa described her business and all of the problems that she faced in her own bakery shop. After the spiel, the research subject agreed. Yes, she faced those problems too.
As Lord Sugar’s spy Nick said “All that happened was Luisa didn’t ask too much.”
Here’s the link (it’s at 12.52)
Anyone who is serious about setting up a business or any kind of new project needs to be sure that there is actually a need or demand for what they intend to do. They should have the balls to look for real insight and real feedback – positive or negative – rather than talking to a bunch of yes men.
But sometimes they don’t realise they are creating the yes men themselves.
It isn’t a bad thing to go out and tell people about your ideas, but too much focus on your own plans acts as a blinker and stops the respondent from thinking more broadly. All they can think about is your idea and your experience and it makes it hard for them to see around that. Plus you may well draw people along with your enthusiasm encouraging them to agree with you that your idea is amazing. Which is great. But. Is it real? If you asked them again tomorrow would they still agree? Or with a bit of thinking space would they have remembered five things that made them change their mind? You can’t be sure.
What works much better is to find out a bit about your respondent and their experiences and their issues first. Find out if a solution is required before you ask them what they think about your solution.
Luisa should have started broad and open. Where do you buy your supplies? How many suppliers do you have? How do you choose a supplier? What are the good things about your suppliers? What problems do you face with your supply chain? What do you wish you could change?
Luisa would then be able to learn more about the context in which her potential customers worked. This would help her to understand her customers and tweak her idea to suit their needs.
After that Luisa could have introduced her business idea and asked how it fit with their needs. Not only would they have been prepped to think their reaction through properly by considering it in the context of their own business, but any enthusiasm that they then showed would have more weight because it would be genuine, considered, evidence-based, and not tainted by Luisa’s over-eager and over-sharey elevator pitch.
I find people are happy to converse in this way as long as you set it up right. Tell them “I’m keen to tell you about my idea, but before I do that it would be really useful for me to find out a bit about you and the issues that you face.” I’ve never had anyone object to that.
If you are seeking genuine insight and feedback, be careful not to let your ideas taint their ideas.
By all means tell people your ideas. But not until you’ve heard theirs first.