The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

The limits of asking

When asking people how much they know about their member, their market, or their audience they’ll often come back with what they’ve been told verbatim.

It’s also what they then decide to build their message and their relationship on.

It is little more than a reaction to the situation as understood.

Now, one could follow a quote that has been attributed to Henry Ford to diagnose the situation. There is no evidence that he said it, but its essence made it popular. It says: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Thinking about the history of the Ford Motor Company and the debut of Model T, the quote highlights how important vision is. It also highlights, that having a clear vision of what one wants may not always be accessible. Customers of the time knew mostly manufactured cars and horses. The price of a car was out of reach for most of them.

Henry Ford on the other hand had little desire to ride on horseback and the idea that by using the assembly line he could create a mass-market automobile. His focus was on cost efficiency and reaching the mass market. He understood that he could expand the market and that customers would respond once the price would be within reach.

He had a successful business model and stayed with it. What he didn’t do was revisit reality regularly. The customer’s reality slowly shifted. They had become used to having a choice of buying an automobile or not, that is, they could get the Model T or leave it.

General Motors might have been using some empirical, observational, anecdotal methods or simply intuition to understand that they could solve the problem customer now had. They decided to offer a choice. In the 1920’s General Motors decided to produce different cars for different market segments. It transformed the market.

It’s not clear if GM would have been told by people that they wanted a car for their purpose and in their desired color. But it’s possible.

It’s easier to imagine new choices than something new. But Henry Ford might still have been told that his Model T was too expensive for them.

Asking questions often results in default answers. They are easier to find and they satisfy the expectations of the one asking. They confirm that it is just about doing more of the same effort.

Asking long enough until one sees the situation people are in, the problems they encounter, and how they would like to react to them. Comparing this with own ideas, listening to one’s intuition, and verifying how this resonates. And finding ways to combine both steps are a way to stay grounded in the reality of one’s offer and the clients’ or members’ desires.

Asking is not sufficient.


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