"If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."
–Henry Ford
"It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them."
— Steve Jobs
What do the above statements show? Should innovators listen to their customers? Do you think that if Henry Ford & Steve Jobs had listened to their customers, Ford Cars or iPhones would not have existed? There is a wonderful wonderful article called "Why Steve Jobs Never Listened to His Customers" by Gregory Ciotti which poses this question and is a must read. Agree, disagree or maybe, you should definitely read the article. The questions it raises and how it makes you think about entrepreneurship is important. The article and the subsequent comments got me thinking. What exactly is an innovative product or service and what role do end users play in its development. There are numerous products & services we have today and have existed in the past that would not have been possible if they had been customer tested to begin with. 
So, is there a kind of innovation, which, in-fact should not be customer tested at its inception? What would that kind of innovation scenario be? How does the innovator decide whether he should engage customers or not? Lots of questions spring to mind, unfortunately, not enough answers.
CREATION Vs ENHANCEMENT
For me, this seems more like Creation vs Enhancement. Innovation, I believe can apply to either case. Creating something new or enhancing an existing product so that it meets a totally new need are both innovations. Focus grouping & customer testing is, I believe most applicable when there are enhancements or improvements  to something that already exists. The first iPhone, even though built on existing concepts, was, for all practical purposes, a radical new creation. It totally redefined the mobile phone from what we had known it to be at that time. I don't believe focus groups at that point would have been helpful. The users perception and expectation would have been based on what they already knew. Their whole expectation would have been baselined on what they knew. 
Enhancements, on the other hand, I believe can be customer tested. You already have a product which people are used to and hence upgrades or modifications are something they can relate to and can give an opinion about its merits. Redesigns, added features, extra services, etc. are all things which can be very innovative and a great value add for a product or service. Cup holders in cars when initially introduced by GM were optional.  But they became so popular that GM very soon made it standard. Now, that is an add-on, an enhancement. 
Personally, while introducing a new product or service, I always start small and that methodology has always worked for me. I introduce the product/service based on my years of experience, confidence in the product & a gut belief that in this big wide world, there must be at-least a few more people who think like me and could possibly give this product a try. That has been my mantra. What I try to do is to minimize the loss potential, market it well and be ready to admit defeat if that was the case. The commonality of my experiments is that I always try to understand the result. Pass or Fail, I always try to understand why that happened. What clicked or did not. That is where the customer feedback comes in and that is where my experience comes from. 
So, yes, customer feedback and input are important but mostly in instances where the prospective customer can relate to the product or service. When a totally new concept or invention is happening, that may not be the case. End users, after all, don't always know what they want.
Well, those were my thoughts and experiences.....What do you think? 
 
 
Below is an article by  Gregory Ciott (www.helpscout.net) which gives some great insight about how a business owner, small or big can create loyal customers. It is a good informative read and I have provided only the introductory paragraph below. The link to the article is provided below that. 
By  Gregory Ciott
It would almost seem comical to limit something as important as customer loyalty to a single defining factor.
It would seem even more ludicrous to claim that there is "1 defining thing" that creates superstar customers who become self-appointed advocates for your brand.
It would seem comical: but that's before you consider the research on the matter that definitively says there is ONE essential element to creating loyal customers.
Do you know what it is?
If not, you're about to find out!
Revealed: The Social Construct that Holds Society TogetherStay with me here, you're not about to read a treatise on the rise of civilization.
The #1 thing that creates loyalty in anybody (that includes your customers) is the social construct of Reciprocity.
Reciprocity is a social norm that's been evaluated and debated since the days of Aristotle, and it has been said by many scholars to be one of the single defining aspects of social interaction that keeps society whole.
Why is it so important?
Additionally, how can it help us create loyal customers?

 
 
Does David Brandt hold the secret for turning industrial agriculture from  global-warming problem to carbon solution?
—By 
Tom Philpott (www.motherjones.com)

CHATTING WITH DAVID BRANDT outside his barn on a sunny June morning, I wonder if he doesn't look too much like a farmer—what a casting director might call "too on the nose." He's a beefy man in bib overalls, a plaid shirt, and well-worn boots, with short, gray-streaked hair peeking out from a trucker hat over a round, unlined face ruddy from the sun.

Brandt farms 1,200 acres in the central Ohio village of Carroll, pop. 524. This is the domain of industrial-scale agriculture—a vast expanse of corn and soybean fields broken up only by the sprawl creeping in from Columbus. Brandt, 66, raised his kids on this farm after taking it over from his grandfather. Yet he sounds not so much like a subject of King Corn as, say, one of the organics geeks I work with on my own farm in North Carolina. In his g-droppin' Midwestern monotone, he's telling me about his cover crops—fall plantings that blanket the ground in winter and are allowed to rot in place come spring, a practice as eyebrow-raising in corn country as holding a naked yoga class in the pasture.  The plot I can see looks just about identical to the carpet of corn that stretches from eastern Ohio to western Nebraska.
But last winter it would have looked very different: While the neighbors' fields lay fallow, Brandt's teemed with a mix of as many as 14 different plant species.
 
 
BY ALAN PYKE ON SEPTEMBER 15, 2013
As  his fellow panelists sought to sidestep criticisms of the financial industry on  the five-year anniversary of the bank failure that kicked the financial crisis  and Great Recession into full swing, former congressman Barney Frank asked a
simple question that brought Wall Street’s defenders up short. “To your question  about those poor beleaguered bankers who have been forced to do so much,” Frank  said, “why are they paying themselves so much money? Where did these enormous  salaries come from if they were in fact in such serious trouble?”

 Frank was responding to CNBC host Maria Bartiromo’s call to “get beyond the  conversation of is Wall Street evil, are the bankers evil and causing pain” and instead look to economic growth as a cure-all for the vast inequality in income
and wealth that has been exacerbated since the end of the recession. (Nevermind that the 
deregulation of the financial sector is a primary driver of inequality in  the U.S.) His question produced several seconds of silence as Bartiromo and
former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson laughed nervously and looked to Meet The  Press host David Gregory for help.
 
 
BY BRYCE COVERT ON SEPTEMBER 13, 2013
After a bill to raise California’s minimum wage to $9 per hour as of July 2014 and  then $10 by January 2016 was approved by both houses of the California state  legislature on Thursday, it now heads to Gov. Jerry Brown’s (D) desk for  signature. Brown voiced his support earlier  in the week in a press release, saying, “This legislation is overdue and will  help families that are struggling in this harsh economy.”

Other  places have 
recently raised their minimum wages. Voters in Albuquerque, NM raised the wage from  $7.50 to $8.50 an hour on election night last year, which will automatically keep pace with the cost of living. Two other cities in California also raised the wage, with Long Beach increasing it to $13 an hour as well as guaranteeing hotel workers five paid sick days a year. When voters are asked to vote on whether to raise the minimum wage, they almost always approve it with substantial majorities, as was the case in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, and Ohio in past years. Eighty percent of Americans support a national raise to $10.10 an hour, including two-thirds of Republicans.