I started my career as an engineer. Like many of my young colleagues at the time, I tended to be a bit arrogant, believing engineering was the center of all that is good in an organization! While Marketing, Sales, Operations, etc. must have served a purpose, the really interesting work was leading product innovation — that is what engineers did. A few years later I found myself working very closely with Sales and I saw a different world and gained new perspectives. Much to my surprise, I found a book on sales to provide fodder for my innovation thinking. The book is “Solution Selling” and seminars by the same name were popular in the mid-90’s. Although it is somewhat dated now, its utility for creating a customer centered approach to innovation remains.
Imagine my surprise — a sales book that is not focused on selling a product but rather focused on meeting the needs of customers. That means we have to know a lot about the customers and what they need — be a true consultant. As an engineer, I had been fortunate to work closely with customers throughout my career. However, this book provided a framework for examining customers needs, identifying what the real problems are, and judging how significant these problems are to a larger group of people.
When I was working on research for why we misunderstand requirements for software projects, I consulted with requirements engineering expert Al Davis
(http://www.uccs.edu/~faculty/adavis/aboutme.htm). During our initial discussion, he recommended the Solution Selling book as a resource to stimulate thought. Go figure — someone else who believes understanding the customer is important.
These experiences had many valuable lessons, including that if we want to transform an organization and create a culture of innovation, we need to look outside at customers and markets instead of inside at ourselves.