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Apple has been doing lots of consumer research for a long time. Wait a minute, you say, that’s not true! You read the Fortune magazine interview where he was supposed to have said Apple never used consumer research. You might even remember his quip, “It isn’t the consumers’ job to know what they want.” That was Job’s job.

This well-known bit of misinformed folklore was revealed to be untrue in 2012 during Apple’s patent lawsuit mess with Samsung when they submitted a motion to have their worldwide research sealed so others wouldn’t know what they were looking into. Greg Joswiak, Apple’s VP of Marketing at the time, said “Our surveys reveal, country-by-country, what is driving our customers to buy Apple’s iPhone products versus other products such as the Android products that Samsung sells, what features they most use, our customers’ demographics, and their levels of satisfaction with different aspects of the iPhone.”

In his last year at the helm, Jobs approved more than $2 billion for R&D.

What is overlooked by most is that Jobs believed research was very good at many things. He also knew that asking people what they want is a lousy idea because they don’t even know it themselves. Pontiac used focus groups to design the Aztek, one of the worst-selling cars ever. And of course, because it was so bad in the past, it is now becoming cool to some. As Car and Driver says, “Okay, not actually cool, but ‘cool’ through the process of ironic reassessment, likely due to its appearance on Breaking Bad.

Behavioral scientists long ago learned that humans do not know what the future will bring.

This is why the best researchers never ask hypothetical questions. Instead of wasting everyone’s time asking people to fantasize, our product development research teams concentrated on asking people what they don’t like about the products they use now (their dissatisfiers) and we did it one person at a time.

Jobs especially didn’t like focus groups, the most popular and the clumsiest research method of all.

Neither do I for most things. I made my case in my #1 most-read and most-passed-along article: Click here to read Most of the $2 Billion Spent on Focus Groups Last Year Was Wasted.

To read more articles like this, click here.

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