Create What No One Is Waiting For

“People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Steve Jobs


One of the first things you would learn in a Marketing class is to put your customers or your audience first. In other words, you must base your business or your work around an existing, well-established customer need.


Coming from a Marketing background myself, I’m not going to tell you that this rule isn’t true. I’m just saying that as with most things in life, it might be so black and white.


It’s not uncommon for customers to not know what they want.


They might know what their pain points are — they might be agile keyboard warriors and finding things to complain about — but that doesn’t mean that they would be able to give you suggestions on how to make your work better.


Your audience might have a vague idea of what they want, but they might not be able to articulate it.


With that being said, if you pay attention to only what other people have to say, you might lose the opportunity to work on latent problems that your audience might not even be aware of — and of course, you’d lose the opportunity to create novel, out-of-the-box work.


It could helpful to remember that at the end of the day, you are your first audience member. You’re scratching your own itch. You’re creating something out of your own experiences and problems. You’re creating the work that you believe in, that you want to experience for yourself.


Steve Jobs, for instance, was notorious for his belief that “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them”. But it was this belief that allowed him and Apple to spearhead original and groundbreaking ideas.


As he explained, “Some people say, ‘Give the customers what they want.’ But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!'”


For the writer Neil Gaiman, he found himself in a dreaded sophomore slump after publishing his novel American Gods. While a lot of people were hungry for a sequel to the novel, Gaiman reminded himself that he was free to write the book that nobody was expecting or waiting for. He wrote the book that he wanted to write, and in turn, he published Coraline, a children’s novella that ended up being very successful.


In comic book writing, Alan Moore can be credited for the maturation of comic books. Prior to that, comic books were mostly written for an audience of children and teenagers. No one asked Moore to add some philosophical weight to comic books, to use them as a medium to discuss serious concepts. But he did it anyway, out of his own curiosity and creativity — and what we got were genre-transforming works such as Watchmen and The Saga of the Swamp Thing


As Moore put it, “It is not the job of artists to give the audience what the audience want. If the audience knew what they needed, then they wouldn’t be the audience. They would be the artist. It is the job of artists to give the audience what they need.”


He also said, “In order to make it, you have to put aside the fear of failing and the desire of succeeding. You have to do these things completely and purely without fear, without desire. Because things that we do without lust of result are the purest actions we shall ever take.”


Just note that I’m not saying you should self-indulgently put your work out there without getting anybody’s feedback. 


I’m just telling you that it might be good for you to create for yourself first, before you get other people’s opinions on how your work can be better. There should be a balance between play and ruthless objectivity, or between what you want and what your audience wants. 


As for Jobs and the field that he came from, he said, “Really great products come from melding two points of view — the technology point of view and the customer point of view. You need both.”


Remember this: you’re chasing after your own daydreams first.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s