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You are not Steve Jobs – and that’s okay

This column is part of Globe Careers' new Leadership Lab series, where executives and leadership experts share their views and advice about the leadership and management issues of today. There will be a new column every weekday. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

At some point in your entrepreneurial journey, you will likely come to the realization that you are not the next Steve Jobs. You're not a visionary who can invent where the market should go. You're not the one person at the top of your company who can knit together a new product design with a groundbreaking marketing campaign, and deliver monumental sales.

Don't worry. That doesn't mean your company can't do all of those things and more. You'll just need to go about in a different way.

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The best way to deliver lasting success is to create an environment where all members of your team have a deep understanding of your customers and are encouraged to come up with new ideas that solve persistent problems for these customers.

Faced with such a challenge in my own company, we've developed an approach we call Design for Delight. The aim is to create products and services that we know will delight because we've designed them by observing first-hand the needs and expectations of our customers.

Design for Delight is a relatively simple program built on the following three principles that any company can follow:

1. Deep customer empathy

Ensure your team is focused on the core problem you are trying to solve by directly observing your customers as they work through a challenge. Don't just stop at what customers tell you. Instead, look at their behaviour and dig for those surprising insights that will help you exceed their expectations.

2. Go broad to narrow

You're going to need a lot of little theories before you land on that one great idea. Go for quantity first. Try holding a brainstorming session and canvassing your employees to get as many different perspectives as possible. Then narrow in on the most suitable idea by mapping back to the core problem you are trying to solve for your customer.

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3. Rapid experiments with customers

Don't spend any more time or effort on your idea until you get feedback. Get out of the office and start talking to customers. Collect "currency" from customers, such as an e-mail address, as a way to measure real interest. You'll quickly know whether your idea works or doesn't. You may also be surprised by the feedback your customers give you. Make sure your teams are open to these surprises and willing to change course as need be.

Whatever your business goals, success depends on insights, creativity and flexibility. The only way for most of us to achieve these things is to stay rooted in the core needs of our customers.

You may not be a visionary who can build the perfect prototype behind your office walls. You can, however, be more successful than your competitors by spending time ensuring that your products and services do a better job of meeting the needs and expectations of your customers.

Jeff Cates is the president and CEO of Intuit Canada (@QuickBooksCA), a provider of business and accounting software.

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