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.