Customers: threat or menace?

Maybe it's just me, but I seem to have bumped into a lot of people in the technology industry who think that innovation and customer sensitivity go together as well as Batman and the Joker. (Spoiler alert: Innovation is the good guy.) In this worldview, customers can't understand innovative ideas, because there's no reference to them in reality as it exists today. Innovation is just too...Er...Um...Well, it's too damn innovative for the average person to understand.

According to a different point of view, as expressed in this post on Derek Morrison's blog, if you spend time with customers, you'll find inspiration for new ways of helping them that you never would have conceived on your own. Customers are not objects to be overcome; instead, they are wellsprings that you can help channel.

Which is right? It depends. On the one hand, I've seen people fail to understand Big Ideas until they saw it in action, at which point, they loved it. The iPod was one of those Big Ideas. XML was another, something that a surprising number of developers didn't get when they first heard about it.

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