Thursday, November 1, 2007

User Input: Good or Bad?

I was recently asked the question "Would your company find value in an application that would allow your customers to post ideas and then your user community could then vote on them in a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" kind of fashion?"

Hmm.  Interesting question.  My response was easy.

"I agree , but only to a certain point."
>There is no way that a single or small group of individuals can have all of the knowledge necessary to create something.  That is what Focus Groups are for.  But a Focus Group is only useful if the individuals who are participating have a prior knowledge of what they are being asked. Many times I have seen a Focus Group be created for a certain purpose that includes too broad of a cross section of individuals.  This unfortunately can incorrectly skew the responses; mainly due to individuals who have enough information about the questions at hand to sound intelligent but inevitably their information is misguided by previous mentors who have antiquated methodology's. If there is an intelligible qualifier for an individual to be invited to contribute through a Focus Group then they can be very useful, but if it is open to everyone then it can be more of a misuse of precious time (especially in the high tech industry where time always seems to be accelerated).

When asked this question (which I have many times in the past) I am reminded about a story I once heard:

A Family had come together for their annual Thanksgiving Feast.  At this event there were four generations of the family assembled.
This year it was Jennifer’s,  the youngest daughters, turn to host the event. In the kitchen, the youngest daughter prepared the turkey and roast beef.  While preparing the roast beef, Jennifer’s son was watching.  Jennifer took out the roast and cut an inch off of each end.  Her son looked inquisitively at her and asked “Mommy, why are you cutting off the ends?”  Jennifer thought for a moment, and said “Well, that’s the way my mother showed me.  She is here, so let’s ask.”
Jennifer’s son then went to his grandmother and asked “Grandma, why do you cut the ends off of the roast beef before you cook it?”.  The grandmother then thought for a moment about the same question and then stated “That is the way my mother taught me to cook it.  She is also here, so let us go ask.”
Jennifer’s son then searched for his great grandmother.  When he found her he asked her the same question “Great Grandma, why did you always cut the ends off of the roast beef when you used to cook it?”.  The great grandmother answered very quickly “Because the roasting pan I used to own was too small for the piece of beef your great grandfather used to buy us.”
This is a great example of how people continue to do the everyday tasks in old, antiquated way “just because it’s the way it’s done”.  To have a successful Focus Group, innovative and knowledgeable people must be involved, else it is not productive.

"The biggest cause of trouble in the world today is that the stupid people are so sure about things and the intelligent folks are so full of doubts." - Bertrand Russell
"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we  used when we created them." - Albert Einstein
"It comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don't get on the wrong track or try to do too much." -- Steve Jobs

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