I just listened to a wonderful talk by Malcolm Gladwell on how people think and what makes them happy. The most important part to me as a software consultant, is that you can’t just ask people what they want – they won’t be able to tell you. As a bonus, this talk explains why you have to choose from 14 varieties of vinegar and 47 varieties of cheese when you go to the supermarket.
Malcolm tells the story of how Dr. Moskowitz showed that there is human variability in human preferences. If you ask most people what kind of coffee they like, you’ll hear an overwhelming number of people say something like “Dark, bold, strong”, when actually a third of people really prefer weak, milky coffee.
Dr. Moskowitz has shown that if you poll people for what they think they want, and then design your product around that feedback, you’ll end up with a sub-par product. But, if you can separate out your data into targeted clusters and deliver a few variations, your variations will be raised in quality as experienced by the consumers or customers of that variation.