Why I Know You Are Failing

Sarah Buxton

Maybe you think that I’m too disconnected from your reality to be qualified to comment. But maybe you’re curious enough to read on and see if I have something that may change your perception.

You’re failing because, at least 2 of following observations are currently true about you (you, as well as me).

You are:

  1. Getting comfortable
  2. Waiting for change
  3. Using history a reference point
  4. Intent on being unique
  5. Framing too early
  6. Just putting a tick in the research box
  7. Creating product to prove concept
  8. Not learning anything
  9. Too wedded to your idea
  10. Getting hung up on details
  11. Putting product first
  12. Commentating not telling a story
  13. Using personas
  14. Falling into the perception gap

1. Getting Comfortable

  • You feel in control
  • You think you’re on the bleeding edge
  • You’ve have current and/or past success

But consider. Consider you are surrounded by peers and people who are a lot like you. And when you’re around people like you, you create a new norm – norms can be disrupted. My perspective: be open to strategies and new ideas (from new sources) that make you feel a little uncomfortable.

2. Waiting for Change

“If you defer investing your time and energy until you see you need to, chances are it will already be too late” Clay Christensen.

It’s widely accepted that the customer now dictates the strategic and tactical plays we choose to make. Yet even if your sales numbers are good and your team is busy, there remains no tangible barrier between your customers and your competitors. The next challenger is already building relationships that you cannot control. My perspective: Anticipate more, react less – stay relevant, don’t let the field move forward without you. Catching up is harder than keeping pace.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it” Alan Kay

3. Using History as a Reference Point

The pace of change is now so rapid that it’s almost incomprehensible. Technology hasn’t just impacted the products we build, or how we deliver them to market – it’s fundamentally changed the way we behave.

  • You use your Facebook more than your Driving License for ID
  • You check your bank balance while sitting on a train
  • You tell people you’re going to be late – before you join the traffic jam

And you think nothing of it.

Our capability is accelerating at such a rate that it is impossible to predict future behaviour based on past points of reference – especially if those points are more than a couple of years old. We don’t behave the way we used to. My perspective:
Don’t just look at the data you have, leverage its value by matching it with observational, qualitative and real time customer feedback. Get closer to the people who will dictate the ways in which you can grow.

4. Intent on being Unique

You have confused the idea of disruption with the idea of being first. You don’t need to be unique to be an innovator – people don’t want new, they want better.

Think of Victoria’s Secret. A bricks and mortar success story. They didn’t create a new category or invent the first bra yet they’ve now eclipsed many established underwear brands and taken La Senza’s place on the UK High Street. My perspective: To disrupt the thinking of others, you don’t need to be first, you just need to be more appealing than the last.

5. Framing too early

Just because you sell or do one thing, doesn’t mean that it should dictate the next thing you do. If you are building or developing a product based on your own capability and current offering then, at some point, you are going to have to retro-fit it to a customer need. Just because it makes sense for you, doesn’t mean it makes sense to your customer. My perspective: Resist framing your opportunity too early as you might not see your opportunity at all.

6. Just putting a tick in the Research Box

Some questions for you …

  1. did you ask the questions?
  2. what did you ask?
  3. were they based mainly around you – your idea or product?
  4. how far down your line of thinking were you when you asked them?
  5. had you built something already?
  6. did they tell you anything that fundamentally challenged your thinking?
  7. do you think there’s a hint of bias in these questions?

    My perspective: It is better to accept that you’re working/learning from your own hypothesis than it is to convince yourself that you’re acting in line with your customer’s point of view.


7. Creating product to prove concept

Creating a prototype or MVP (minimal viable product) is not about making a refined picture of your first idea – it’s about exploring the alternatives.

My perspective:
Don’t build then ask, ask then build.

8. Not learning anything

There is no such thing as customer testing, there is customer insight and there is usability testing. The most successful entrepreneurs have a natural curiosity about people – they really do care.

“If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse” Henry Ford.

Did you know that there is no proof that Henry actually said this? It is however documented that he said:

“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own”.

My perspective: You need three factors continuously present to create success – credibility, persistence, and true empathy.

9. Too wedded to your idea

You have so much belief that you’re unable to change your mind.

93% of all companies that ultimately become successful have to abandon their original strategy. Instagram started as a check-in style app called Burbn (similar to FourSquare), until they noticed that people only valued their photo sharing features.


My perspective:
It’s better to pivot and catch the ball, than it is to stayed faced in a direction where you can’t see it coming.


10. Getting hung up on details

“Be strong on vision and flexible on detail”. Jeff Bezos, Amazon.

It might be tempting to convince yourself that success lies in action and outputs – pace and activity. But don’t confuse being fast with being successful. When you start to value action over results you begin to compromise, little things begin to pile up, things start to be skipped.

My perspective: Your product should be built from purpose, the end goal has to remain focused on the “why are we releasing this?”, not the methodology you have used to get it to market. 


11. Putting product first

There are three distinct areas which dictate our success to innovate:

  • Team
  • Product
  • Market

All are important – but if you had to pick, if you could only select one what where would your focus be? My perspective: You can have an imperfect product and an inexperienced team, yet if you have a market then you have an opportunity – without a market you’ve nothing. Prioritised your market fit.


12. Commentating not telling a story

Despite  the world changing around us, human beings, by our very nature are unpredictable, emotive, impulsive, illogical creatures. We communicate, as we always have, through stories. The most successful brands tell the best stories – creating a narrative that we want to connect to and share. Stories take products from being functional to being valuable. My perspective: Get to grips with your own story.


13. Using personas

Still works
Travels a lot
Grown Children
Has Grandchildren
Loves dogs
Obsessed with exercise

The above describes Richard Branson, Ozzy Osbourne and Prince Charles – I’m not sure I’d talk to them the same way, would you? My perspective:
Personas are a good place to start, they make you think more in human terms accept that they have limitations. The only way to bring personas to life is by meeting the people behind them.

14. The Perception Gap

How you look at things affects what you believe you see. But what do they say when they see your design? Even when sitting in a room with 10 execs from the same company they tell their story and describe their vision differently – you can only imagine how much it changes by the time it has filtered down to your customer and they have connected it (or not) to their world.

I don’t believe you have to be customer obsessed as some claim – I just think we all need to be more a little more conscious as to the impression we give out – after all perception is reality.

My perspective:
Change the way you look at things; and the things you look at change.

Just to note – I’m currently failing because I am: 9, 10, 12 and 14.


Sarah Buxton, is managing partner of The Observer Effect, a Growth Consultancy. We harness the power of insight and innovation to create customer-compelling propositions. Together we help businesses to adapt their thinking, change their perceptions and continue on their path to growth.

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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