What everyone gets wrong about this famous Steve Jobs quote, according to Lyft's design boss


Apple cofounder Steve Jobs has a lot of famous quotes.

One of them is a counter to the popular phrase, “The customer is always right.”

Here’s the full quote from Jobs on why companies shouldn’t rely on market research:

Some people say give the customers what they want, but that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I’d ask customers what they wanted, they would have told me a faster horse.’ People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.

I asked Katie Dill about this quote recently. Dill was just named one of Business Insider’s 10 people changing the world of consumer technology and made our list of 100 people transforming the world of business.

Dill believes people get the wrong idea from this famous Jobs quote.

Katie Dill Top 100Jason Henry for Business InsiderKatie Dill.

“I agree with that quote, but I think it is often misinterpreted,” Dill told Business Insider.

“I agree with the sentiment that we can’t just ask for what customers want; they don’t always know how to articulate it. But I am a firm believer in the power of understanding our community. I’m a firm believer in the power of user research and qualitative insight gathering.”

Dill is responsible for Lyft’s millions of users, so she works closely with the company’s engineers, designers, and product managers. But there’s a great emphasis on observing how people use Lyft’s products, rather than asking them directly. By taking note of people’s reactions to different products, Dill and her team can see what people themselves might have trouble articulating.

“Our marketplace is growing by the minute,” Dill said. “There are so many people that use our product that I can’t and should not assume what they want. We need to learn. We need to understand what life is like in the community to understand what they want, or what they’re gonna want in the future.”

Steve jobs young 1984Steve Jobs in 1984.

She also thinks people misunderstand Jobs’ quote because it implies that Jobs and his team weren’t customers themselves.

“The point is that Steve Jobs and his team are users of the product,” Dill said. “I don’t necessarily disagree with what Steve was saying, but I think people sometimes use his quote to say things like, ‘that’s why you shouldn’t bother with user research.’ I think that’s wrong. I think there’s a type of user research that’s very powerful, and I certainly would not leave it behind.”

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