Was Steve Jobs a Genius about Market Research?

SteveJobsbyWalterIsaacson

When Apple founder Steve Jobs died a few months ago, there was an unprecedented reaction to the death of a business leader.

In the week or so after his death, there was a huge amount of online conversation about Jobs, much of it in the form of tributes and an outpouring of sentiment.

I personally felt sadness at his passing, and I discussed his life and legacy with a number of friends and family members.

I was interested to learn more about the man and his accomplishments, so I just read Walter Isaacson’s fascinating Jobs biography.

One thing that really hit home for me when reading the biography was Jobs’ attitude about market research.  It can be described as nothing short of disdain.

From page 170 of the Isaacson biography:

“On the day he unveiled the Macintosh, a reporter from Popular Science asked Jobs what type of market research he had done.  Jobs responded by scoffing, “Did Alexander Graham Bell do any market research before he invented the telephone?”

Here are a few other Jobs quotes from over the years about market research:

“Mr. Jobs’s own research and intuition, not focus groups, were his guide. When asked what market research went into the iPad, Mr. Jobs replied: ‘None. It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want.’”

“It’s hard for [consumers] to tell you what they want when they’ve never seen anything remotely like it. Take desktop video editing. I never got one request from someone who wanted to edit movies on his computer. Yet now that people see it, they say, ‘Oh my God, that’s great!’”

I find this all a bit baffling.  The last time I checked, Apple had a market research department.

Don’t get me wrong; I read Blink.  I can appreciate the power of intuition.

But something tells me there’s been a ton of good market research done over the years at Apple. Maybe people just didn’t bring it to Jobs’ attention.

As much as I admire Jobs’ abilities as a business leader, I have to say he was wrong about market research. He was prone to making extreme statements, and this is probably just one of many examples.

It sounds to me like Jobs was referring to market research in its worst, poorly constructed and uncreative form. Bad market research is definitely a waste and a distraction.

But market research done well – and creatively – is invaluable.

What do you think about Steve Jobs’ statements about market research?  Was he right? Was there a grain of truth to what he said? Or was he totally wrong.  Share your point of view in the comments section.

Related posts:

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  2. How Not to Get Market Research Clients
  3. Rethinking Market Research Incentives
  4. The DIY Debate: Why Self-Service is the Future, and Market Research Can’t Hide
  5. The Continued Debate Over DIY Market Research
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About Dana Stanley

Dana is the Editor-in-Chief of Research Access.

  • 5hormigascaribe

    The truth is you don’t want the research but the insight that results from it si if he got it another way, it’s also valid…

  • DStreet

    There are three ways to predict the future:
    1) Be or know a philosophy king (or queen)
    2) Be lucky
    3) Conduct insightful research

    Jobs falls into category 1, but not all companies have a Steve Jobs. So then what…

    Additionally, “market research” means many different things to many different people so the debate needs to be clarified. One debate that is important is whether or not market research is an art or a science.

  • Michael Hollon

    Steve Jobs’ intuition and innovation earned him the right to make outrageous statements like “it’s not the consumer’s job to know what they want.” But the reality of virtually every competitive company is that they need to know what consumers have to say. Steve Jobs was extremely rare and exceptional. (and I’m no Apple fanboy)

  • Seonmi Jeon

    I think it is just talk. All of Apple’s products have been influenced by previous products in the market or competitors’ products. So Apple (or Steve Jobs) is no exception when it comes to market research.

  • SW

    Steve Jobs would never give credit to someone else for his ideas… or for their own for that matter. Guaranteed they did more research than he claims.

  • ZeeKay

    what he meant was “invention” does not need market research. All the great inventors didn’t do any market research but just do “what they’re passionate with”. I guess you didn’t see his point of “invention”.

  • Amir q.

    I think Steve Jobs words are most ‘misused and taken out of context’ for consumer research for all marketers.

    A) Anyone who carefully thinks about his words and in context in which they were spoken will understand that it is true for only ‘technology based innovations’ where consumers really cannot tell what they need Until they feel the product. And that’s how he explained it.
    B) Apple has spent $10 billion in research and development in last ten years, 9 percent of net income (google it you will find).

    C) Steve knew what consumers overall needs were, because he was a consumer himself and interacted with human beings who were consumers, and very often talked to them about their product experience and enhance his understanding. His intuition on what innovation consumers wanted was based on what was in his mind consumers would like.

    D) He was a technology guy who knew what innovations were possible, and in his business all types if product innovations were possible.

    Judge yourself and your industry on above points and see if you need research.

  • Zac Golub

    Market Research is only helpful in existing markets. What type of real “research” would you need to do if tomorrow you invented a Hover-Board? If it’s awesome- people will buy it. And if you spent time and money asking other people what they thought was awesome….well if they really knew they would have invented already themselves!!! That’s what Jobs means. Thats what he did with the iPhone and what Alexander Graham Bell did with the Telephone before him, they took existing and emerging technologies and CREATED SOMETHING NEW.

    Market Research is for investors, not inventors.