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When Listening to Customers Makes Little Sense

Conventional wisdom teaches us that listening to customers is at the core of any innovative enterprise. But the highly creative folks at Juniper Networks, the telecom equipment provider, think otherwise.

“Customers will take you down a status quo path every time,” says Christine Heckart, Juniper’s vice president of worldwide marketing. “They are after linear improvements. Customers can help you do that. But if you want to hit an inflection point and get non-linear improvement, the worst thing you can do is listen to a customer about what they want. Customers can only think about solutions for problems they know about.”

This is a keen insight for a company like Juniper whose every existence depends on constant innovation. “Everybody’s job here is to wake up every day and innovate because 100% of our revenues come from innovation. Five years from now 100% of our revenues will come from products that aren’t here now. If we’re not constantly innovating, our very survival is at stake.”

Feels like the definition of a Fast Company.

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