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.


  1. The Efficiency Paradox said,

    January 12, 2016 @ 9:37 am

    […] See also: the paradox of customer focus. […]

  2. The Paradox of Innovation Incentives said,

    February 1, 2016 @ 8:52 am

    […] of scarcity, a “jedi mind trick” is necessary, similar to the one I wrote about in The Paradox of Customer Focus. Namely: to innovate, stop trying so hard to innovate. Instead, relax, work on hard problems, and […]

  3. Purpose, not Profits said,

    March 11, 2016 @ 3:17 am

    […] focus on purpose is sincere, and indeed is the cause of their consistent profitability (in what appears to be a paradox). In fact, this focus on “purpose, not profits” is one of the three pillars of […]

  4. Robin said,

    June 6, 2016 @ 9:29 pm

    I had not realized that Agile development practices are also founded on this same foundation of customer focus above all else. This article describes it well:

    HBR’s Embrace of Agile

Leave a Comment