The Voice of Technology

We’ve all done Voice of the Customer (VOC) work, where we jump on a plane, visit our largest customers, and ask leading questions. Under the guise of learning it’s mostly a mechanism to justify what we already want to do, to justify the products we know want to launch. (VOC should stand for Validate Our Choices.)

It’s a waste of time to ask customers for the next big thing or get their thoughts on a radical technology. First off, it’s not their job to know the next big thing, it’s ours. The next big thing is bigger than their imagination, never mind what they do today. (That’s why it’s called the next big thing.) And if we wait for customers tell us the next big thing, we’re hosed. (Their time horizon is too short and ours is shorter.) In this case it’s best to declare failure; our competitors figured it out a long time ago (they didn’t wait for the customer) and are weeks from commercialization. We should get busy on the next, next big thing because we’ve already missed this next generation. Next time we’ll silence the voice of the customer (VOC) and listen to the voice of the technology (VOT).

As far as radical technology, if we wait for customers to understand the technology, it’s not radical. Radical means radical, it means game-changing, a change so radical it obsoletes business models and creates unrecognizable, ultra-profitable, new ones. That’s radical. If we don’t start technical work until our customers understand the new technology, it’s no longer radical, and our competitors have already cornered the market. Again, we’ve missed an entire generation. Next time we’ll silence the voice of the customer (VOC) and listen to the voice of the technology (VOT).

Technology has a life force; it has a direction; it knows what it wants to be when it grows up. It has a voice. Independent of customer, it knows where it wants to go and how it will get there. At the highest level it has character traits and preferred paths, a kind of evolutionary inevitability; this is the voice of technology (VOT).

Technology will evolve to complete itself; it will move toward natural periodicity among its elements; it will harmonize itself; it will become more controllable; it will shorten its neural flow paths;  it will do yoga to improve its flexibility; its feet will grow too fast and create adolescent imbalance; it will replicate into multiples selves; it will shrink itself;  it will improve its own DNA. This is VOT.

Technology cannot tell us its lower-level embodiments (we control that), but it does sing hymns of its high-level wants and desires, and we must listen. No need to wait for VOC, it’s time to listen to VOT.

Like a dog whistle, technologists can hear VOT while others cannot. We understand the genetics of technology and we understand its desires (because we understand its physics.) We can look back to its ancestors, see its trajectory of natural evolution, and predict attributes of its offspring. Before everyone else, we see what will be.

Next time, instead of VOC, ask your technologists what the voice of technology is saying, and listen.

10 Responses to “The Voice of Technology”

  • Tom Davis:

    I think you are are talking about two different things.

    You are correct that a customer cannot tell us what the next big, radically different product will be. In that case, looking at technology trends can be a valuable way to determine the possibilities. But they are only possibilities, and even if technically feasible may turn out to be commercial failures. The technical possibilities must be matched to market and lifestyle trends. A good example is the original VCR for the home. No customer would have said that they wanted a VCR since they had no idea what it was. However, market analysis showed that people wanted to watch TV shows at a convenient time for them and not be restricted by the program schedule. Matching this customer desire to the technical possibilities led to the development of a hudely successful new product.

    VOC is focused not on the next big thing, but on refining the requirements for a product that is under development. What features are important to a customer, and for what is he/she willing to pay?

  • What a balancing act. Customers don’t always know what they want, and technologists sometimes invent things just because they can, without considering the whole process of delivering and managing a product. Herein lies the art of business.

  • Araya Amsalu:

    I agree with you customers may not know the next big thing (I am saying may because of the whole concept of lead users and many successful products invented not by technologists but users) If you are doing your VOC to find the “next big thing” indeed you missed the point of the excercise. The counter agrument to your article is articulated by Anthony W Ulwick’s paper “Turn Customer Input Into Innovation”. The voice of technology is an important part of your planning alog side the VOC not instead of it.


  • Joseph:

    Dear All

    VoC have different faces. Japanese call it “Go to Gemba” or go to the place where action is. Americans call it “Ethonography” – Watch the action. TRIZ language it is called pinciple #25 “Self service” or observe yourself. In vedic principles it is called “Observation”

    VoT can not be realized without VoC.

  • Justin Mickelsen:

    My interest was caught by the discussion of “radical.”

    My own thoughts started to drift towards phases or levels of radical technology. For some, radical technology need not be universally new, but rather new to them to develop new opportunities and innovation, at least as far as internal practices and processes are concerned. As for products and the marketplace, nearly every company has something unique to offer and therefore can take even older ideas and spawn new products/services. I get more of a feeling of accomplishment from innovating something that doesn’t redefine the wheel but rather finds a new use for it and produces something simple, elegant and effective.

    Radical technology in the purest sense is definitely still exciting, or at least I think it would be, I’m not so sure I’ve had the privilege of making its acquaintance to tell the truth…

  • Mike:

    Tom, great additions. I like your thoughts on coupling technology lens with lifestyle lens.

    I agrree that VoC is valuable when used as you describe. Most don’t use it that way.

  • Cortlandt Minnich:

    There is at least one other perspective that should be added to the VOC vs. VOT debate and that is “capabilities and capacity”. I submit that they are different, interdependent, specialties.

    Some organizations have capabilities in basic science and voice of technology development work. These are the firms that can hear the “dog whistle” you describe. They have made investments in the kind of overhead in scientists, labs, specialty equipment, patience, and the nutrient-rich environment that it takes to allow a VOT to “strengthen its own DNA”. This technology-forward basic research capacity is expensive, and I see it facing challenges today in the US.

    The reverse is certainly true. There are many small entrepreneurial organizations that thrive on turning a clunky technology into a slick, desirable, customer focused products. They have keen senses in understanding what a customer needs (not asks for) in the immediate term. They thrive off of VOC, but operate beyond their headlights when trying to address VOT. These firms are dependent upon a flow of new technology.

    How can we align our quaint patent system, and our sometimes impatient funding sources to ensure that both of these firms are pushing technology and its practical applications forward? And, how do we keep government in the business of gently fostering through standards and strategic investment and not favoring through monopoly status, or subsidies?

  • Daniel Habel:

    I agree with “Validate Our Choices” but it is a universal concept not just limited to our perceptions. The typical VOC is only about learning what the customer thinks is right, and doing that. If we want to change their opinion we have to attack their preconceptions with overwhelming proof that what we are offering is better.

    The corollary is that we also suffer from a prejudice towards our core technologies. We offer a technology that has become our standard. We have sold “millions and millions” based on our core. So why listen to the VOT? Maybe because technology has advanced to the point where we can find out why the core technology worked in the first place. Or maybe we will discover that we can modify our core to make it even better. And maybe the fact that our competitors are offering a variation of our technology, and taking more and more of our business, is a wake up call. The call is shouting the fact that while we have been listening to the VOC saying our core technology works fine our competitors have been working on the VOT and the customer now has a better option.

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