thinking like a customer

thinking like a customer

The Seventh Hat: For Customers

By on October 22, 2008

Dr. Edward de Bono is renowned for his groundbreaking work in lateral thinking and systems for generating ideas. In his book Six Thinking Hats (Little, Brown and Company, copyright 1985, 1999 by MICA Management Resources, Inc.) he describes a technique for channeling thoughts about a problem or improvement opportunity by putting on one of six hats. It is a solid, proven technique that asks decision-makers to adapt one point of view at a time:

  • White hat-based on facts and figures
  • Red hat-based on emotions and hunches
  • Black hat-based on cautiousness and possible difficulties
  • Yellow hat-based on positive speculation and benefits
  • Green hat-based on provocative, creative thinking
  • Blue hat-based on control and monitoring

De Bono's book is fantastic and I am a big fan. Its brilliance is in its simplicity. He calls these hats "direction labels for thinking" to take participants in up to six different directions to look for answers and alternatives. Building on the well-known phrase about "putting on your thinking cap", he challenges us into behavior that "maximizes (the brain's) sensitivity in different directions."

I believe in a parallel approach, in which change-makers think like a customer. Dr. de Bono has rightly pointed out how thinking, in general, can become confusing when we attempt to think too broadly at once. In the spirit of Dr. de Bono, it becomes a focus on what will improve your product or service for the customer. What will the customer value and how can we design for it? The risk of six-hat thinking, however, is that it can focus on the supplier's viewpoint only, even if approached from six directions. No decision should be made, regardless of how many views are involved, unless the customer is considered. The result is a more creative solution because it is not confined to your organization's viewpoint only. Instead, it nullifies any direction that the customer will not value.

Thinking like a customer means being easy to do business with. It means proactively taking actions that will be appreciated by your customers. It, like Six Hat Thinking, focuses us on the future, "on ‘what can be' rather than just on ‘what is'," as de Bono declares. It is not "looking into the eyes of your customers" because we all do that. Instead, it is "looking through the eyes of all customers" to define how each decision that you make will provide greater value to them.

We can all get better at it. It takes practice and the elimination of the clutter that distracts us from the customer. Done properly and consistently within your company, it becomes the cornerstone of actionable decision-making that everyone can understand and rally around.

Customers are thinking more for themselves than ever before. That's why we will only grow if we think like a customer. Adding this philosophy of how-the-customer-will-benefit to every decision will take your organization to a new level of outstanding performance.

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