Friday, March 13, 2009

Reframing the Idea of Customers

Successful organizations have a visceral obsession with customers. Every corporate quest for innovation begins and ends with a customer in mind: “The best efforts come from organizations that solve for human desirability early in the process. You must uncover human needs to design compelling user value propositions. Otherwise, why would anyone want to buy what you sell?” (Rodriguez & Jacoby, 2007a) and, “Design thinking starts with people and looks for evidence of desire. This is one of the most fundamental ways to mitigate risk. Why? Because marketing things that people don’t want increases one’s risk of failure substantially. Ask yourself, what is the bigger risk: placing a bet on a value proposition that customers are asking for either latently or directly, or investing in an idea that springs from the cloistered assumptions of a conference room deep within your company?” (Rodriguez & Jacoby, 2007b). Taylor also noted the important role of customers in the innovation process: “Focus on your immediate competition, and you’ll end up imitating its possibilities. Focus on the consumer at the other end of the channel, and you’ll immerse yourself in your own possibilities” (Taylor et. al., 2000).

Christians have a substantially different perspective on customers, one that considers not only their temporal needs but also the eternal significance of each and every customer. As British author C. S. Lewis said, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is with immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors” (Lewis, 2000).

Dr. Gary Oster
Regent University
School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship


Innovation, customers, design, human needs, client focus


Lewis, C. (2000). The weight of glory. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.
Rodriguez, D. & Jacoby, R. (2007a). Innovation, growth, and getting to where you want to go. Design Management Review, 18(1), 10-15.
Rodriguez, D. & Jacoby, R. (2007b). Embracing risk to learn, grow, and innovate. Rotman Magazine, Spring, 54-59.
Taylor, J., Wacker, W., & Means, H. (2000). The visionary’s handbook. New York: HarperBusiness.