I tell the story of the six blind men and the elephant to a lot of my clients, because a significant amount of innovation work seems very similar to the story. If you aren't familiar with the story, the concept goes something like this:
Six learned blind men live in a village. One day an elephant comes to the village, and no one is quite sure what to make of the elephant. The blind men, who are wise, are brought to the elephant to describe its character and makeup. Each of the blind men touches the elephant and describes the elephant from his perspective. One touches the elephant and describes the elephant from that perspective. Another touches the elephant on the trunk, another on the leg and so forth. All of them are partially correct, but none manage to piece their perspectives together to see the whole elephant.
If you are interested, you can go further at the Wikipedia page or see the famous poem written about the blind men and the elephant, which has the interesting stanza:
And so these men of Hindustan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right
And all were in the wrong.
We, today, are a lot like the blind men when it comes to innovation, especially when we are focused on discovering new customer needs and expectations. In many discussions about what "customers" want, it often seems like we have a group of learned blind men who know only their particular perspective. Some speak about EXISTING customers and their needs. Some speak about POTENTIAL customers and their needs. Some speak about the firms internal CAPABILITIES and TECHNOLOGIES, as if this matters. Some talk about future SCENARIOS and TRENDS that may occur. Some talk about specific SEGMENTS of customers, ignoring others. Some will talk about what they believe to be true, not what customers have told them. In the end, many clients often have very narrow, segmented and biased interpretations of customer needs, often influenced by current market conditions and the existing capabilities of the business, rather than what they've learned by interacting with customers....