i made you dinner!

a cropped photo of Sanamluang Thai diner in north Hollywood. part of a neon sign is visible on the restaurant’s facade. a circular open sign in neon hangs on a window.

“Hey, you should come over for dinner,” I say in kind of an abrupt way. It’s the after-times, when the pandemic is over, but it was the first time it started to feel like the before-times.

“That’d be great! What’s the occasion?” You ask.

I give you a placid, friendly smile. “I wanted to do something nice for you. I know you’ve had a rough time recently, and I thought I could do a little something to help you out.”

“That’s so nice, thank you!” Your mood brightens. “Sure, I’d love to come.”

“Oh that’s great!” I say. “So what kinds of food do you like to eat?”

You give an exaggerated sigh and fan your face dramatically. “It’s been so hot recently! I’ve been eating a lot of summer meals, you know? Cool weather foods. Salads, fresh vegetables, things like that.”

“Oh, that’s perfect,” I say, nodding with enthusiasm. “I love those. Okay, so I’ll make a beef stew.”

Your expression flashes to puzzled, then shifts to cockeyed. Is this a joke?
“That’s…” you stammer.

I interrupt you with, “Okay, great! See you tomorrow at 3 PM for dinner!”

This very scripted example is how some organizations build their programs. We cook up an amazing meal, something we ourselves might like to eat. We spend the day buying groceries, putting the placemats justso. And for all our good intentions, we spend countless dollars and effort doing the wrong things. And why should we go through all the trouble of making someone dinner when the end result is stew? (if you love stew, this example is perfect for you).

Why do we seek the voice of the customer?
We don’t know what people need. We often must take educated guesses when we build programs. But rarely do we have such intimate knowledge of the problem that we craft the perfect solution. If we’re going to put the work into doing something, we should make sure that it’s wanted.

If I want to make you dinner but I don’t care what you like, there’s a slim chance you won’t like it. Some people will love it (some people love stew!), but others will hate it or be non-plussed.

It takes work to involve people. It can slow down our timelines, but arbitrary deadlines are another trap we fall in. But if I’m going to go through the trouble of making you dinner, why not make it something you want? Why isn’t it worth it to take the time to get to know you?