Flaw of Customer Research, customers inability to describe what they want when the don't know

A friend sent me this post by I, Cringely on creating solutions, Age of Supply, not Demand

Here are a few nuggets.

“Demand drove supply in the industrial age,” said Aurel. “You needed more steel to build cars so a new steel mill was built. But today it seems to me that supply is actually driving demand.”


“You can’t rely on customers to tell you what to build,” said Aurel. “They don’t know.”

Some people think that money is what is needed to build innovation.  One example is Google going cheap vs. Excite being Sun Servers.

We see this effect over and over. Look at cloud computing, for example. It’s easy to argue that the genesis of cloud was Google’s desire to build its own hardware. Google was nailing motherboards to walls at the same time Excite (Google’s main search competitor at the time) was spending millions on Sun computers in a sleek data center. Google’s direction turned out to be the right one but that wasn’t immediately evident and might well have never happened had not Larry and Sergey been so cheap.

The whole idea of market research is turned on its head now a days.  In the past, companies would spend millions on customer research, and what are you building?  The next instagram.  What customer survey would tell you to build instagram?