When I was a student at Harvard Business School, some enterprising student ordered a t-shirt with an alleged HBS version of the Harvard University motto Veritas or Truth. The t-shirt had a decision tree in the center of the Harvard shield with the Latin words for “Truth through gut feel” around the edge. We all had a good laugh. The B-School was teaching us to gather information, analyze it, pick the best option, and implement it. This process was pounded into our heads three times a day with each case. By graduation, we followed the process instinctively; it felt like relying on gut feel.
We were also taught not to wait for all the information to be gathered—that would lead to analysis paralysis.
But truth through gut feel is not a smart approach for most managers. Sure, there are exceptions. Steve Jobs was famous creating new products without market research. But how much time and effort should smart managers devote to research, both into buyers and competitors?
The key is continuous updating and focusing not on products per se, but on the customers’ problem and how your product solves the problems. Pay attention to new uses for existing products. Scan for new competitors with different solutions to the users’ needs. Never get complacent. There’s always a rival thinking about how to get your customers. Stay ahead of your competitors by always being alert.