I’m not a big fan of listening to what your customers say. I don’t believe most know what they want, and those that do, usually have a very short sighted view of your product. 

What I am interested in is watching what customers DO with your product. More often than not, they’ll surprise you with use cases you’d either not considered or not prioritized very aggressively.

Consider the images above. Each contains a use case from the past week or so for three of our portfolio companies. I’d not considered any of these use cases before.

In the top image is a picture of Hello Kitty. Cute right? Now look closer. Its actually a form of street art created by a Runkeeper user who traced the image via a carefully planned 28 mile route through the streets of Tokyo. The thought of using Runkeeper route traces to create art had never crossed my mind. Amazing. You can see more of his Runkeeper art here.

Next is a page from a book I just finished reading called Do More, Faster. In it the author used a Bitly link to reference content from the printed page to a specific webpage. We’re all used to seeing Bitly links on Twitter, in email or across the web but in print? What a simple and powerful use case of a customized Bitly link. Again, didn’t see that one coming.

The final image is a screen grab of the documentation for v2 of Foursquare’s API. The cool thing about this image? The Foursquare team didn’t translate the documentation, their users did. Rather than wait around for the company to get to it, the users took the translation into their own hands. I can see other countries doing similar translation in the future. A new and powerful way the company can work directly with their users that I didn’t see coming.

Any army of passionate users is a powerful thing. Featuring, celebrating harnessing their creativity can be game changing. We don’t need to look much further than Twitter to see just that.

Would Twitter have become the juggernaut it is today if not for its users creating social gestures within the service? Twitter, the company, didn’t invent the @ reply, the use of hashtags or the retweet. Each of these were surfaced by their users bending the service to their own needs. And, in doing so, giving the company a view into what they, the users, wanted it to become.

So stop listening to your customers and start watching what they do. Actions have always spoken louder than words. Who knows, the actions of your users may very well be telling you something more powerful about what your business can become than what their, or your, words ever will.

huge fan of gps art (both running and cycling)

i’ve been wanting to carve secret messages into manhattan on my runs 🙂