The Paradox of Customer Focus

Apple and others have demonstrated that one of the best ways to be successful over the long term is to focus on the customer: to prioritize customer needs over all else. (I’ve also called such efforts a focus on quality.) But achieving that requires, by definition, focusing less on other things, including the success of the business itself. For example, you might decide to simplify an existing feature instead of adding a new feature that will attract new customers and new revenue.

That is the paradox: If you really care about succeeding in business, the best way to actually get there is to stop caring so much about succeeding in business (so you can focus instead on the customer needs). The more you want it, the harder it is to achieve it! It becomes a sort of mind trick of fooling yourself into wanting something else, in order to actually get the thing you really wanted.

Prioritizing customer needs, of course, is not sufficient to succeed in business — many other pieces must also fall into place. But I think this basic paradox helps to explain why it has been so rare for other technology companies to imitate Apple’s long-term success.