Build the Product, Then Get Feedback

negative-effect-of-crowd-feedback Technology has enabled real-time feedback. What used to take days, a team of customer representatives, and myriad of layers to get through to management, is now just an email, Twitter, or forum posting away.  Businesses are now frantically scrambling to deal with an unprecedented amount of feedback – many unsolicited, and are working on a credible and systematic way of incorporating said feedback into its strategy and execution cycles, product development, customer service, distribution and all other facets of operations.

It’s certainly worked out well for a lot of businesses, particularly those focused on unique customer service propositions.  Dell, Zappos have excelled in this. Motrin, not so much.  Observation so far: soliciting and processing feedback is a positive attribute for established businesses that are hoping to connect further with its existing customer base.  But what about projects or businesses in the start-up phase, what role does feedback play in those?

Freakonomics has an interesting take on the potentially negative side of feedback.  True innovators seek to surpass expectations, and make truly amazing products that many of us didn’t know we needed.  The idea of crowd-sourcing certain appeal to the demographic, transparent, and two-way communications principles espoused by the internet and new methods of communication.  But as much as we eagerly embrace the potential of such endeavours, products that took the market by storm emerged mostly out of a small team of individuals.

Apple came out with IPods, not because the market or consumers demanded it, but because the innovators envisioned a future that had yet to materialize, which is something that entrepreneurs are good at. Polling an existing class of customers for what they would want or expect from a product-in-progress would hardly be of any use.  Without any vested interest in the product itself, nor a compelling vision of its end-use, you get mediocre feedback that matters little.  Even Threadless – arguably THE poster child for crowd-sourced success, the business model behind the brand was the one thing that had little to do with feedback.

A similar example was made out of the latest Star Trek, where the director broke with the past and tuned out the “quibbling” from its throngs of fanatical fans. Sometimes progress is made when one takes that leap of faith.  As much as feedback can help a business gain insight into its product, open alternative customer service and sales channels, and present a brand as transparent and authentic, it has equal drawbacks when leveraged incorrectly.

The crowd sometimes stifle creativity by unconsciously creating a suffocating bubble with its noises. When it comes to creativity and inspiration – something a startup desperately seeks, the crowd might also favour what it already knows – the status-quo, versus the outrageous.  If the crowd would’ve had its say in the creation of Heath Ledger’s Joker in Batman, would the character have come through the way it did?  Or would they have ended up with a mediocre duplicate of past models, must like what the Watchmen has done?

For the truly innovative start-ups or turnaround artists, the visions starts with the visionary, not the quibbling of the crowds.

picture source: suffercontinues

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  • http://www.whitneyjohnson.com/ Whitneyljohnson

    Found you via Twitter (via Motley Fool's followings); am enjoying your thought process. There certainly is a tension between getting feedback and not, but I tend to agree with you — whenever something is really new — so much about it is unknowable (and potentially a classic 'disruptive innovation') that our instinct is to say 'it won't work.'

  • investoralist

    Whitney,

    Thank you for the comment and for following.

    I think the feedback loop only works when the product or service itself is solid enough to elicit meaningful conversations. Without a clear vision and ownership of the end product, you end up with well-intentioned noises but little results. Have you checked out Cambrian House? Execution partially contributed to their ultimate failure, but I wonder if the idea itself was also highly flawed.

  • http://www.whitneyjohnson.com/ Whitneyljohnson

    Found you via Twitter (via Motley Fool's followings); am enjoying your thought process. There certainly is a tension between getting feedback and not, but I tend to agree with you — whenever something is really new — so much about it is unknowable (and potentially a classic 'disruptive innovation') that our instinct is to say 'it won't work.'

  • investoralist

    Whitney,

    Thank you for the comment and for following.

    I think the feedback loop only works when the product or service itself is solid enough to elicit meaningful conversations. Without a clear vision and ownership of the end product, you end up with well-intentioned noises but little results. Have you checked out Cambrian House? Execution partially contributed to their ultimate failure, but I wonder if the idea itself was also highly flawed.