Tag Archives: observation

The easiest and most engaged way to get new insights

I’m a baller, and I can tell which sneaker is good for playing in and why. One of the worst things about modern basketball sneakers is that they still generate a lot of moisture on your feet that makes for an uncomfortable way to play. You really have to get used to playing with moisture on your feet. This problem hasn’t been fixed until now.

The video above is an overview of the new Nike Hyperfuse, which uses mesh technology (the one used on running shoes) to fix the moisture problem. You can find an elaborate review of the same product at Shoe Hero. What I want to draw attention to is that the Innovation Kitchen team from Nike got the insight for using mesh technology to reduce moisture after traveling to parts of China and ‘observing’ that some people where playing hoops in running shoes or sandals.

The Hyperfuse is a big hit with NBA players right now (Most of Team USA wore them during the recent World Championships) because it has everything all the other shoes had before it plus the mesh technology that helps the feet breathe.

Observe. Observe. Observe.

I’ve argued before that there are plenty of ways to get insights, but the easiest and most engaged way to get insights is by observing how people use your product or interact with your service.

You would think that an athletic footwear maker like Nike would’ve thought about using running shoe mesh technology on basketball shoes before. They had to travel to the other side of the world to see people playing basketball in sandals and running shoes, not basketball shoes, to get this insight. This why direct observation is so important and focus groups so limited, it’s better to observe people’s behavior because if you ask them outright what they want the don’t really know.

Another thing to remember is that people tend to say ‘that’s the way it is’ and accept products as they are and get used to them. Do you actually think that if they’re used to things being the way they are that they’re actually going to tell you what they want? I know as a basketball player you do all sorts of things to remove the moisture such as changing your socks often so your feet are as dry as possible, yet since we’ve found an alternative and temporary way to dealing with it we don’t stop and ask why?

Somebody else, an outsider, has to notice it; define the problem and find a solution.

Direct observation is one of the most cost effective ways to get new insights, ignore it at your peril.

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From noticing to insight

There are a lot of ways to have insights, from quieting your mind to cultivating happiness all around you. Yet it doesn’t stop there, these are conditions that contribute to having insights. But what about active insight recognition?

That’s where observation comes in. Engaging one’s attention, not just seeing, contributes to the ability to make distinctions and then wondering why those distinctions exist.

For example have you noticed that some people, especially women, sit very close to the wheel of the car as if almost driving with their teeth? This can be attributed to many things such as their height, but that’s not entirely true. Elderly people come to mind when thinking about this but they have  some physical limitations such as strength, shortsightedness and height. So why do some people drive almost with their teeth?

I don’t have a clear answer but simply asking ‘why’ will lead me to an answer, an insight.

This is the secret of noticing: Spotting things that don’t make sense, that defy expectation. And once you notice a cluster of patterns, ask why this pattern or more specifically: “Hmm, I wonder why that is?”

The better you become at noticing things and then seeking out the truth, the more insights you’ll have and the more interesting the world will become to you. As a by product you’ll also become more interesting to other people 🙂

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To see the invisible make distinctions


Over the weekend shared a blog post about to which I want to add to it.

How many times a day do you notice something?

My grandfather was a successful Mexican entrepreneur in his time, he designed bags for women and was also an interior designer. I was 7 seven years old when I started hanging out with my grandfather and one thing I remember about him is that he had deep empathy for people (my grandparents had a room in their house where they would give low-means people shelter for a few days).

On the weekends he would take me to the arcade in the biggest plaza in Tijuana, after a good round of playing he’d get us some ice cream and we would sit on a bench and just watch people (I still do this). A few years before his passing while engaged in a ‘life lessons from grandfather to grandson’ conversation he revealed to me that when we sat on the bench he was specifically watching women with purses because he was looking for ways to improve his bag designs, he was hunting for insights.

This is a valuable lesson for entrepreneurs, budding innovators, managers and executives.

Intense observation

As we’ve discovered, one of the distinct skills of an innovator is the ability to observe. My grandfather did this diligently and I got to experience it first hand. He always carried a mid sized notebook and a pencil where he wrote notes or drew what he observed, and then we would drive back to his workshop and like a mad scientist he would draw, add, remove, increase, decrease things on his bag designs.

Make distinctions

Creative thought is about looking at what everyone else has looked at and seeing something new. Looking is not the same as observing. We all look at things, the same things and can talk about them on a superficial level. Observing is making distinctions, noticing things, seeing something that’s not obvious.

Looking at a car from the outside is not the same as seeing it from the inside. From the outside you see windows, color, metal, tires and bolts; you see what’s obvious to everyone else. From the inside you see valves, tubes, cam shafts, pistons, spark plugs, etc and you get a deep understanding of how the car works, how it moves and why you’ve been riding in one of these machines since you were born.

The lesson is very clear: If we are to spot new opportunities for innovation, such as improving a process, revamping the user experience on website or the customer experience in a retail store we must practice ‘intense observation’ because new insights are found beyond the obvious.

Observing the world is fun

If you’re not a keen observer but want to improve your ability to make distinctions, there are infinite ways to get started. Here are a few tips to get you going:

  • Go to a park on a Sunday and hang out near a place where different families are and try to identify what makes each family different, who’s the leader of the family and then compare this with your own family.
  • In the same park go to where people are playing some sport, soccer, volleyball or basketball and try to identify who the best player is and why. What makes him different from the other players and what are the differences between the other players.

While doing this it’s very important to turn off your ears. Don’t listen to conversations and don’t interview people, just watch. You’re trying to see anew, not the same and so we must control the urge to use our other senses. You’ll also notice that once you do this you’ll instinctively become more curious about these people because you’ll have thoughts in your head that need an answer.

Let me know how it goes, I love listening to observations.

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How innovators understand the unmet needs of customers

Most breakthrough ideas are born when we have a deep understanding of the customer.

When the world changes unexpectedly as it has in the last 18 months, customer needs change, and as business leaders we must find a way to address them. Of all the techniques available to an innovation practitioner, entrepreneur, marketer or business leader none is more important than getting out on the field and observing people in their domains.

One of the key discovery skills that makes up the ‘’ is the detailed observation of human behavior. It’s no secret that being deeply empathetic and getting under people’s skin can drive insight into their needs and frustrations.

The problem most businesses have about understanding unmet customer needs, is that they rely on the popular survey or focus group to get these insights by asking their customers what they want or need. Most of the time, the things people say and what they do are not always the same. In-context observations are often useful for getting beyond what people say to understand what people do and feel.

In-context means being with people in their real settings, doing the things they normally do. The stories that emerge from these encounters in the field show us new opportunities and inspire innovative solutions.

Some companies such as P&G have used the power of observational research to discover customers unarticulated needs even calling it ‘Day in the life’. By going to various countries to watch how people clean their bathrooms, they developed Mr. Clean Magic Reach.

So where do you start?

How to understand the unmet needs of customers

First you need to accept that you really don’t understand your customers. It’s a difficult barrier to break, but you have to fight it because your customers have needs you’re probably not even aware off, and if you’re not going to satisfy them someone else will.


To experience your customers needs and frustrations you must become them, and put yourself in their shoes. Get in their zone, spend time with them, do the things they do. Live their life!

This isn’t easy, but luckily there are a few things you can do that come natural to most humans. Observe!

What should you look for in observation?

  • Things that prompt shift in behavior.
  • Work-arounds and adaptations.
  • Body language.
  • Thing people care about.
  • Anything that surprises you.
  • Anything that questions your assumptions about how the world works.
  • Anything that you find irrational.

Do you agree with this? What method do you use to uncover your customers unmet needs?