Pipeline Accelerator Blog

The Invisible Gorilla & How to Find Unmet Customer Needs

Are unmet needs your invisible gorillaFinding unmet customer and market needs is a critical accelerator for your new product pipeline. And “The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us”, holds a surprising lesson that applies to finding these insights. 

The book shares a story where study participants must watch the video below and count the number of times a basketball was touched by someone wearing a white shirt. Halfway through the exercise someone in a gorilla suit walks through the picture while beating their chest and then leaves.

The amazing thing is that half of the participants were so focused on the task that afterward, they had absolutely no recollection of seeing a gorilla.  It’s what the authors call the illusion of attention and the illusion of memory. Basically, we put far more faith in our powers of observation and recollection than is warranted.

So what does this have to do with accelerating product development? If that’s your interest, you know it’s important to spend time in the field talking with customers. It requires impeccable listening skills and copious note-taking. And if you’ve ever participated in one of these interviews, you know there is lots of information that you have to pay attention to and later recall – all subject to those illusions of memory and recall.

The problem is that keeping everything from the interview straight means that you could easily miss the gorilla walking through the room – or more specifically clues that point to an opportunity to profitably serve a new unmet or unarticulated customer need. That’s why I coach new product development teams to divide and conquer by having three people participate in customer interviews or requirements definition sessions.

The first person leads the discussion and asks the questions.  The second takes notes to aid recall afterward.  The role of the third is to watch for the gorilla – to listen for clues that the other two might miss because of their task orientation on asking and note-taking.  And to ask follow-up questions for clarification and to explore unexpected areas of opportunity.

The other important element in this process is the team debriefing that follows.  Information accuracy has a half-life so you must record it while it’s still fresh. You may have notes of what was said, but recollections of emotions and body language fade fast.

Schedule debriefing sessions after interviews and never wait until after you get back to the office to debrief. And if you are conducting multiple interviews, always debrief before conducting the next interview. It’s critical to use what you’ve learned to improve successive sessions.

So have you been missing any gorillas in your customer interactions?

Don’t forget to check out my free downloadable template for helping find better new product insights.

Get Better Insights With Our Customer Value Accelerator Guide

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