Sunday, August 28, 2011

Steve Jobs: No focus groups for me

IT WAS GOOD to read that retiring Apple genius Steve Jobs dismissed focus groups as the source of his success. As reported by the New York Times, Jobs said "his own study and intuition, not focus groups, were his guide. When a reporter asked what market research went into the iPad, Mr. Jobs replied: 'None. It's not the consumers' job to know what they want.'"

Forget the elitist tinge to that remark. When someone was as impressive in his work as Steve Jobs, there's no point in raising silly questions about something as trivial as focus groups.

Allow me to speak from personal experience. In their search for a life raft to the next generation, the media have been inviting groups to sit around in conference rooms to tell the editors how newspapers should do their jobs. It's all very collegial and home-townish that, for all of the confidence in unprofessional newspaper readers, it hasn't changed a thing other than to make editors, for a brief moment, at least, feel like they've done something very positive to connect the paper to the community.

Back in my newspaper days, I made the anti -focus group argument more than once, only to lose it every time. Maybe it came down to ego. I never thought that a group of well-meaning readers could tell me more about my business than a person with a backache could tell a doctor how to treat it. Such special, if never perfect, knowleddge of our trade is why we showed up for work in the news room each day rather than at the local bank or shoe store.

Besides, the focus group's advice was largely anecdotal and we had heard it all many times before: too much bad news , biased political coverage, the paper wasn't always delivered to your doorstep on time, etc. etc. etc. Editors thought it best to hear these complaints at intervals to persuade our invited handfuls of guests that we really cared about what they wanted, even when they often disagreed among themselves about what it was that we should be doing to satisfy them. Largely, it was a feel-good approach with fleeting benefits.

The only daily clue to a newspaper's mission lies in its first four letters: news.. Today the media don't need a focus group to remind anybody that as the papers shrink so do the number of news room employees who are supposed to cover the news. It is a dead-end practice that no focus group can change. Unfortunately there is no Steve Jobs around to be of any help.


Mencken said...

Steve Jobs is very quotable, especially about business. ther was a time when Apple stock was trading at $4 a share. Jobs philosophy ramped up Apple's stock to where it is today around $390.00 a share. These quotes should be engraved in the back of every iPod, iPad, and iPhone:

“A lot of companies have chosen to downsize, and maybe that was the right thing for them. We chose a different path. Our belief was that if we kept putting great products in front of customers, they would continue to open their wallets.”

“We’ve had one of these before, when the dot-com bubble burst. What I told our company was that we were just going to invest our way through the downturn, that we weren’t going to lay off people, that we’d taken a tremendous amount of effort to get them into Apple in the first place – the last thing we were going to do is lay them off.”

Grumpy Abe said...

There is another success story about a businessman who ran against the tide in bad times: the late Robert Lazarus, the top man for the giant Lazarus Department Store in Columbus. While others were laying off employes during the Depression, he was hiring them , convinced that it would give him the edge over all of his competitors. Always the humane businessman, he even quietly hired ex-convicts who were judged to be sufficiently freed from their earlier bad habits. I was once hired by his associates to write a short biography of him. It could have been a full=length volume of a unique individual - who did it his way.

Henry said...

I thought this study would interest your readers.