An Experiment – Choose My First Product

It’s late, and I am positively delirious from lack of sleep.  I hope I don’t regret this post in the morning.  😉

I mentioned a few days ago that I’ve joined the Empower program offered by Microsoft.  Even before I joined, I had a ton of product concepts in mind.  After pondering the issue for a while, I thought I had identified the strongest concept from my idea-pool.  As of yesterday morning, I was all set to start doing some deeper market research to validate my conclusions, then start gathering requirements.

But a thought occurred to me yesterday, inspired by a lively stew of this JoelOnSoftware forum post, the Cluetrain Manifesto, and a recent Forbes magazine cover story – instead of charging ahead with my product idea, why not simply ask people what problems they’d like to see solved with a software tool?  It should seem bizarre, to think that coming up with a useful product could be as simple as asking “what do you want,” but with the rise of corporate transparency and the ever more commonly-held belief that markets are conversations, it doesn’t strike me as weird to begin that conversation by asking “how can I help you?”  After all, companies ask that very question in order to improve existing products.  Why not ask it before you’ve made any product?  Is this completely ludicrous, the idea of asking people what they want rather than clandestinely doing market research?

I don’t think it’s such a stretch.  Let’s experiment with the idea and see if it yields any useful results:  If you and I were sitting down over coffee right now and I told you “I’d really like to try to apply a software-based solution to one of your nagging problems at work,” what would you tell me?

Sound off on your blogs or in the discussion forum!