Concept Image. InnovationThe old Golden Rule in business was to find out what your customers wanted and to give it to them. Today, if you ask your customers what they want and you give it to them, you’d miss a huge opportunity. Their answers will never give you more than a fraction of the true potential. In addition, the answers they provide are the same answers they are telling your competitors when they ask. In other words, you and your competitors will take your customers’ answers and develop similar solutions that will result in high competition with low margins.

Our capabilities are changing far too rapidly for this old rule to be useful. Customers today don’t know what is technically possible because change is so fast. The things they might really want are things they don’t yet know are possible. For example, customers did not know they wanted an iPod, iPhone, or iPad until Apple gave it to them. The elderly were not asking for an iShoe that would help prevent them from falling. They had no idea such a thing was possible.

To survive and thrive, look at your customers’ visible future. Look at their Hard Trends that will happen. Look at what you’re certain about regarding their future. See what problems they are going to have and solve them before they happen so that by the time they’re just starting to experience the problem, you already have the solution.

Technology driven transformation will not wait, pause, or stand aside while you think about it. Blur—streak—gone! There are two critical truths about business in this new era that you cannot afford to ignore. We might call them corollaries to the Golden Rule:

  1. If it can be done, it will be done.
  2. If you don’t do it, someone else will.

This is going to happen in every field.

  • If the Big Three automakers don’t make the cars people will both want and need in the future, Toyota will. And if Toyota doesn’t do it, Tesla or someone else will.
  • If the Big Four record labels weren’t moving fast enough to embrace MP3 technology and the dematerialization of recorded music, Apple was only too happy to step in.
  • Blockbuster didn’t move fast enough to make the home video rental business virtual, so Netflix did.
  • In the last presidential election, Mitt Romney didn’t grasp the potential of social media fundraising and web-based voter interaction; Barack Obama’s people did.
  • If the major television networks don’t embrace interactive, personalized, high-bandwidth IPTV, then someone else will. And a few years from now, perhaps the major television networks will not be ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox, but YouTube, Netflix, Vimeo, or someone else.


Always ask your customers what they want, but remember that they will always under answer. Therefore, it is far better to follow my new Golden Rule of Business: Give your customers the ability to do what they can’t currently do, but would want to… if they knew it was possible.