innovation wordle

This blog is written as a companion to an “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations” interview between Maureen Metcalf and Urko Wood: Innovation: How to Make It a Predictable Business Process

Many leaders struggle with how to drive revenue growth. And yet we know, from study after study, that the key to successful growth is having a clear understanding of customers’ unmet needs. Even technology-driven companies, if they are going to be successful long-term, must understand and satisfy their customers’ needs. So a simple and reliable growth strategy is to discover your customers’ unmet needs and address them. Why, then, is this so hard? Why do so few companies do this successfully?

The number one reason why companies don’t successfully execute this simple growth strategy is because there is widespread confusion about what a customer need really is. Many people mistakenly believe that customers have “latent unarticulated needs, needs they cannot articulate.” This is simply false when we understand what a customer need really is.

Theodore Levitt said “People don’t want to buy a ¼ inch drill; they want a ¼ inch hole!” This quote reveals the difference between a need and a solution. The “drill” is just a solution, not a need. The solution could be a pick, a punch, a laser, or some yet-to-be-invented tool, but none of these are customer needs. True customer needs are functional, emotional, and/or social tasks that people want to accomplish and they are totally independent of solutions (how needs get met).  The task of “making a ¼ inch hole” is the true customer need. This thinking can be applied to any industry. For example,
1. P&G understands that “people don’t want to buy a mop; they want to clean the floor.” This enabled them to create Swiffer, a billion-dollar new product category.

2. Nike understands that “people don’t want to buy athletic shoes and apparel; they want to become better athletes, and feel like one.” This has enabled them to grow at greater than 10% even while sales are now over $30 billion.

3. And people don’t want to buy your products and services, or mine. They want to get something done, have an experience, and feel or be perceived a certain way. These are their true needs and all of them are totally independent from the solutions that address them.

One key reason why market research has fallen into disrepute in some circles is because researchers mistakenly asked customers what the best solution would be. This is like a doctor asking his patients what the treatment plan should be. Obviously, most people don’t have the expertise to generate solution ideas. That’s the supplier’s responsibility. But, delightfully, customers can tell us what they want to get done, what experience they want, and how they want to feel or be perceived. They also can tell us very where in the process of executing the task they struggle given their current solution. Discovering this information is the basis of your customer “diagnosis” which will provide you with a target to focus your creativity and solution expertise. It’s hard to hit a bull’s eye if you don’t have a clear view of the target.

Additionally, once the customers’ needs have been discovered, we can determine which are important and unsatisfied with statistical validity. A need that is both important and unsatisfied is unmet. The more important and less satisfied, the more unmet it is and the greater the opportunity for value creation. This is great news because it means leaders can create new offerings in a predictable and repeatable manner that will be both valued by customers and unique in the marketplace. How do we know it will be both valued and unique?

Because, if your solution addresses an important need, then we know that customers will value it. And if your solution addresses an unsatisfied need, then we know that your offering will be unique because no other competitor is satisfying it.
Most companies don’t lack creativity, they lack focus. They don’t lack ideas; they have plenty of ideas. What they lack is clarity about where the market is underserved. It’s hard to differentiate, create new value and grow if you don’t know where the market opportunities lie. Start by discovering what your customers are trying to get done, where they struggle, and why. These types of customer inputs provide rich targets that reveal where to focus and what to do to create new value and drive revenue growth, all before you spend a dime on development. This is revenue growth made predictable, repeatable, and simple.

To learn more, contact me at or visit our website:

About the Author
Urko Wood is founder and president of Reveal Growth Consultants, an innovation and growth strategy consulting firm that reveals ways to drive growth, guaranteed, and then helps clients do it. Some of his clients have included Battelle Memorial, Cintas, General Motors, Herman Miller, Ingersoll Rand, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, and NetJets as well as smaller businesses and associations. In his free time, he enjoys friends, family, and good conversation over food.