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VOC and Innovation, Friend or Foe?

| On 28, Dec 2007

Bob Carter

At the recent PDMA Voice of the Customer Conference in Scottsdale, I moderated a panel that discussed whether the Voice of the Customer and Innovation are friends or foes.  Certain industry and thought leaders believe that Innovation gets derailed by the Voice of the Customer, citing Henry Ford who was alleged to have said that if he’d have asked the customer what they wanted they would have asked for a faster horse. The temperature at the debate was further raised when we added the benefits or otherwise of Six Sigma to Innovation.  Those of you who know me will not be surprised to hear that I strongly argued that Six Sigma and Innovation should be bosom buddies, and that if Innovation is really about the introduction of something new that adds value, the Voice of the Customer is also a vital element.


Ford may have been right, in absolute terms, but the key to Innovation is in making the right emotional connection with existing and new customers.  This is not about asking what they want, but in understanding their underlying needs.  How can we do this if we don’t listen and observe?


Furthermore, I argue that Innovation is about turning dreams into reality and what better management tool than Six Sigma to bridge that gap.  It is true that at the creative front end of Innovation, methods like Six Sigma can be a little cumbersome, but Innovation is about taking the critical few ideas that can make a difference and making them real.  I would like to re-introduce this debate to RealInnovation.  Do you agree that Six Sigma, Innovation and the Voice of the Customer are truly linked, or do you believe they get in each others way?