4 Magic Questions For Innovation

Photo by jasper benning on Unsplash

Made From Scratch describes a process for conducting one-on-one customer interviews to discover what customers value relative to a problem, need, or product. The goals are threefold.

  • To develop a deep understanding of what customers value and why.
  • To use that understanding to help you see insights into the key value-producing design challenges you face.
  • To apply those insights and solve those challenges as you design your new product solution.

Good one-on-one interviews use a series of open ended questions that can’t be answered by “yes” or “no” and are designed to encourage the customer to share their thoughts. These types of questions work well, but it is very common for customers to tell you the “what” but not the “why”.

These 4 magic questions will drive you toward hearing “why”.

  1. Why?
  2. How?
  3. Oh?
  4. Tell Me More.

Understanding the “why” lets you understand how the customer value is created. Sometimes you are using the 4 magic questions simply to learn more.

Customer: “The middle option is the best.”
Bad Interviewer: Writes down – “middle option is best” and moves on.
Good Interviewer: “Why?”
Customer: “It’s the only one that both fits in my smallest bag, but also has a large enough keyboard to actually type on.”

Customer: “Your <competitor’s model X> is the best.”
Bad Interviewer: Writes down – “likes competitor’s model X” and moves on.
Good Interviewer: “How is that?”
Customer: “It’s really easy to carry”
Bad Interviewer: Writes down – “portability” and moves on.
Good Interviewer: “Tell me more. How is it easy to carry?”
Customer: “The tie-downs make it easy to secure it to my bike.”

Sometimes you are using the 4 magic questions to avoid a personal bias. This is a little more subtle to detect. Because of your bias, you may think you understand the “why”, but your interpretation may not be true for your customer. Be careful of writing down an answer that isn’t exactly what the customer said.

Customer: “The battery needs to be better”
Biased Interviewer: Writes down “battery needs to last longer” and moves on.
Good Interviewer: “Oh?”
Customer: “It should be much lighter and less bulky.”

You’ll notice that from the examples, that customers can use words like “better” or “best” or “I like”. Or they can describe a feature like “easy to carry” that stops short of telling you “how” or “why”. Until you ask more, answers like these don’t give you a “why” or a clear product design challenge.

How far should you carry this line of questioning? In the quality world, they use a process called “5 Why’s” so that they can drill down until they understand a problem’s root cause, not just its symptoms. You may not go that far, but when you find yourself hearing a preferred feature (the “what”), but not hearing how it benefits the customer (the “why”), you owe it yourself and your design team to invoke a little magic.

Published by Steve

I write and train about innovation, empowering entrepreneurs to build a better tomorrow.

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