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Being Customer-Centric

Specialists have a serious problem. They view the world through lens that have been honed through years of experience.

This can seriously hinder your effectiveness when dealing with non-specialists. In my field, jargon-terms like information-theory, program complexity, IO-bottleneck and scalability have very specific meaning, and are an excellent way to communicate with others who have specialist training. You don’t expect the other person to go off and spend a week reading about info theory, and then building up their evaluative instincts over a few months of tinkering around with labeled data-sets.

However In The Real World (TM), you need to interact with other people who come to the stage with a different set of experiences. We have to be sensitive to this reality.

Earlier in my career, I remember interviewing this brilliant scientist. He had a boatload of transferable skills, and was really sharp, however throughout the interview, he kept harping on about how he wanted to continue the very specific work he was currently doing with unstructured databases. In the end, I decided to go with someone more amenable, even though the other candidate was probably not as proficient. He did a poor job of selling me. I had no problem with his competency, rather the issue I had was that I was not willing to risk the project by bringing someone on board with a pet project they wanted to pursue. The gentlemen did not convince me that he was the man for the job.

In marketing, there is a saying that is well known. Consumers purchase the ability to make a quarter-inch hole, and do not buy a drill.

Sure, there are some people who are abstract thinkers who will actually internalize the desire to ‘purchase a drill’ as they can logically equate it to bringing them a step closer to their goals of building a treehouse for their son, or renovating the basement. However, more people don’t bother to build this superfluous cognitive structure.

Indeed, I am convinced that if consumers were capable of making a clean hole in the wall or in wood with a simple screwdriver, even if it took twice the time, they would never purchase the drill in the first place.

The real reason that drill sell, in my rather subjective opinion, is that the holes are cleanly made, and there are complementary goods (such as wall anchors) that require a drill-made hole.

Indeed, many people who I know that do hobby wood-working would use a hacksaw anyday over a power-saw. They claim it allows them to keep their fingers attached to their hands :-) If these people were working industrially, they would purchase the powersaw (as time is money), but as consumers (without tool-envy) they are happy with the lower-tech solution.

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