Outside In: Aligning Ourselves With Our Customers’ Obsessions

This article was originally published on the FCR blog on June 21, 2017. Click here to read the original.

I was recently going through some boxes in my garage and inevitably dug into the one that houses my baseball card collection. I have quite a few good ones but generally grew up in the era (the 80s and 90s) that has a lot of supply, missing the era (any time before the 80s) that has all of the demand. So my collection is sure fun to look at but probably not worth a whole lot.

I can remember how I got hooked, too. I was eight years old and my dad took me to my first baseball game to see the California Angels. My uncle had access to one of those suites so my first game was spent in the lap of luxury. Trust me when I say that every game thereafter was in the cheap seats — like the top row of the entire stadium cheap seats. It was at that game that my dad bought me a pack of 1986 Fleer cards.

From there on out, I was hooked. Every spare dollar I earned, I spent on baseball cards. I admired the pictures, read the stats on the back, traded them with my friends, and even ate some of the disgusting chewing gum that accompanied them. I used to sit for hours, sorting and re-sorting my cards into different orders. Total obsession.

As I reflected on the recent Father’s Day, I recalled a special memory where my dad and I collected the entire 1987 Topps set. We each bought packs of cards in an attempt to collect all seven hundred or so in the set. This required arranging them in order, making trades with each other for the ones we were missing, and frequent trips to the card shop to complete our collection. My dad, came from the era where he clipped baseball cards to his bike to make it sound motorized. Needless to say, he sort of dropped the ball on handing down the goldmine of cards from his childhood. Nonetheless, he joined me in my obsession and it’s one of my favorite memories from growing up.

Now I’m an adult and I have this collection of baseball cards and three boys that I’d love nothing more than to share my obsession with. We’ve already established that my collection isn’t going to make me rich — but I’d happily trade that for rich memories with my kids. What if they don’t share my obsession, though? My oldest has shown some interest, but he also recently learned how to weave at school and has been rather obsessed with making coasters lately. Yes, coasters.

I’ve been particularly interested in comparing a customer experience built from the inside out versus the outside in. An experience built from the inside out is based on our desires, needs, and wants as an organization and risks falling short of customer expectations.

An experience built from the outside in, on the other hand, designs with the customer in mind. While you’ll never please everyone, it’s certainly better than aiming in the dark and hoping you hit on something good. And yes, I know Steve Jobs was right in saying “customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them,” but I’d be awfully careful before you start designing things that make logical sense without thinking about your customers and getting their feedback.

There’s no telling which way my kids’ obsessions will go. They change frequently and are totally unpredictable. As a father, if I spend all of my time banking on my kids sharing my obsession for baseball cards, I might just miss out on some valuable time to connect with them— and there really isn’t much time at all. I’m forever grateful that my dad chose to share my baseball card obsession with me. In the same way, I want to be obsessed about weaving, fidget spinners, or wherever else the wind blows for my kids.

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