EdSurge recently sponsored a Los Angeles Tech for Schools Summit. By all accounts, it was a rousing success. Why? It was a rare assemblage of administrators, teachers, and companies talking with, not at each other. In the summary article (EdSurge LA Confidential), Edgar Salamingo, Jr. of La Salle High School made two comments that got my attention. The first came after playing a game of Telephone where company reps and administrators pitched a message about their work. Needless to say, the game worked as it always does; as the pitch made its way around the group, the original message was lost. “It helped me find out my own gaps in communicating initiatives, and how others could misconstrue the message,” said Salamingo.
What Salamingo experienced, and what EdSurge delivered, was the ability to gain insight. Insight builds on shared language, shared experiences, shared pain points. The insight the simple game of telephone delivered was that in order to meet the needs of these educators, companies must better understand the language they are using. Instead of launching into a speech about your adaptive platform when asked about personalized learning, one might want to ask “help me understand what you mean by ‘personalized?’ How would you see such a tool being used in your classroom?” Imagine what can be learned and applied from this sort of conversation.
Salamingo’s second salient comment in the article praised the event, “I have been to a couple conferences similar to this one, and this was the only one that allowed for intimate conversations to get needs addressed and provide quality feedback to the companies.”
While I appreciate Mr. Salamingo’s enthusiasm for the conference, here is where I think most product development errors are made. Feedback is very important. Company presents a product (or product plan). Company asks you what you think about it. You ask company questions about how it does (or doesn’t do) the things they told you it did. This may look like a 2-way conversation, but in reality, the Company is using you to validate a product they have already planned and built. If you mostly like it, you are a “target customer.” If you don’t, well, the Company will take you off their target list. I believe, for the most part, companies are pretty adept at asking for feedback. I have worked for more than a half dozen education companies, and all of them had a talented group of people who were great at soliciting feedback from teachers, administrators and students. Some (not all) were even great at taking the feedback and applying it to their products. But I would argue that getting quality feedback from customers is not the issue. It is getting quality insight from customers that will ultimately change the game.
Are you ready to experience the difference true customer insight can have on your results?