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A faster horse

"If you ask people what they wanted, they would say a faster horse."

This is a saying attributed to Henry Ford, who built the first mass-market motor car.

This is used by many people in tech today to stake the claim that they know what the users want better than the users themselves. While such thinking worked in the favour of Steve Jobs and Henry Ford, they were outliers. The statistically successful thing to do is to actually listen to what the users say.

That doesn't mean that we need to build them a faster horse instead of a motor car. Of course, people won't ask for a motor car which they have never seen in action before. They will ask for a faster horse because slow horses are what they use everyday and know well.

When listening to users, we need to understand what their pain is rather than simply build them what they ask for. When someone tells us what they need is a faster horse, what we need to be hearing is that they find their current mode of transport slow and can use something to speed it up. The solution that they think up for it can be a faster horse. But, the solution you think up for it can be a motor car.

At the end of the day, if it solves their problem and speeds up their commute while costing them less than the gains they realize by reducing their commute times, they will buy your solution.

Users may not know what they want until they see it. But they do know what problem they have. And a good Product Manager is adept at unearthing it.

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