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Can you guess who said that “if you just listen to (customers)…they will misguide more than guide you”? Why, none other than our favourite disruptive innovation thought leader, Clayton Christensen.

He explained in this technology report that customers are less articulate when assessing larger impact innovations, thus we need to be careful with how they are used for innovation.

So what’s more important? Keeping a customer focus (customer-led innovation) or scanning the environment for technology that can be leveraged to solve a customer need (technology-led innovation)? Well, I’m glad you asked.

The key difference between the two approaches lies in the point in time at which the product is created. A customer-led innovation develops the product or service after gathering customer insight. In contrast, the technology-led approach first creates the technology innovation, then seeks out its market (this includes when an organisation outsources its technological competitive advantage).

Here are three ways to place the customer at the heart of innovation when a technological solution is likely:

Centre on the customer: Focusing first on the customer means that we find the best challenge to solve, and we uncover the greatest opportunities for innovation (and potentially technology solutions).

Scan for clues: Exploratory research presents opportunities to uncover jobs to be done for later application of innovation and where relevant, a technology solution, that may not currently exist in the market.

Evidence before Launch: Bypassing customers and not involving them in experimentation can be costly. For example, customers may be unwilling to switch to the new technology, think it redundant or find it too complex.

In today’s fast-paced and competitive market, technology can often be mistakenly regarded as a solution in itself. While there is a critical role for technology to play, a human centric approach is still needed to uncover unmet needs. Success often lies in striking the right balance between being customer-led yet remaining cognisant of where technology can play an effective and productive role in enhancing customers’ experience.