Entrepreneurs: Focus On Unmet Needs Through Visual Exploration

If you are an emerging entrepreneur searching for a big idea or a budding business owner building your new enterprise, you are probably great at seeing things with fresh eyes. You know that people are waiting for new solutions to their recurring problems.

Maybe they are struggling with a problem for which they have still not found the right answer. Maybe your partners and suppliers have pain points dealing with your processes and systems. Or, maybe your own employees might be struggling with company practices that aren’t working. 

Whatever the situation, people need some great entrepreneur to see things with fresh eyes—and bring them the help they need! 

It isn’t more of the same, cheaper.

Whether it is the needs of a new customer you want to serve, or the challenges of your staff with your business model design, or the irritated supplier who wants you to get it right, you have some work to do.

But before you can solve your customers’ and employees’ issues and improve the situation, you need to know how they really “feel.” What are their thoughts? Their opinions? What changes do they hope to see? Which of your products or services do they wish were different? How do they solve their problems now? Do they decide to use competitors’ products?

To answer all these questions, you need to go to the source. Please don’t just ask them! Go Exploring!

Is it enough to directly ask your clients and people what troubles them? Will they be honest and tell you upfront what’s really on their minds?

Probably not. The truth is that only a handful of people can be completely honest about how they feel about products, services or their jobs. They’ll reserve their candid opinions and share them with people they trust and in moments of privacy.

So how do you then go about hearing the truth and genuinely understanding people’s feelings?

You listen. You observe. You use the anthropological toolkit designed to help you identify how your customers “feel” about your product, service, solution or company.

To learn what your customers and employees are thinking, spend a “Day in Their Life”

New customers and loyal old customers both have a great deal to teach you. However, you won’t learn as much from “asking” as you will from spending time with them, watching and just listening. Think of “spending a day in the life of a customer” as a way to open your eyes to see what is often right before you but that you just can’t see—not yet.

This is your opportunity to gain insight on why your clients do what they do, why they remain loyal to you (or not), or why they only use one of your products rather than the whole line.

Here are some things to consider when you are “spending a day in their life”:

  • What are you seeking to understand?
  • Capture the meaning of events as you see them unfold.
  • Invite the customer into the experience by explaining what you are trying to accomplish.
  • Know what tools and techniques you will use to collect information and capture observations.

Become a participant in their world.

Suspend judgment. Pretend you too work in their company. Or if you want to observe how prospective customers go about their routines, try to find what their go-arounds are and where they are complaining.

Along these lines, there is some excellent, classic research about how anthropologists hung out and watched people eat breakfast. General Mills hired Susan Squires to study what people do when they are eating that sacred breakfast. The mother would tell the observers about how healthy her family’s breakfasts were, but then the researchers would watch the kids swallow their sugar-laden cereals that turned the milk blue as the husband rushed out for coffee and a doughnut, and the wife, well we aren’t sure if she ever ate a healthy breakfast at all.

Out of this research came Go-Gurt, yogurt in tubes that has become ubiquitous in homes everywhere.

To really “see” what’s going on, go hang out.

Maybe you really want to know why your employees are having problems among themselves or with your suppliers. Maybe you’ve been so focused on the growing of your business that you’ve never really spent time watching your business. “Undercover Boss” is an excellent model if you want to see how it’s done, but the idea is easy—hang out and see what is really happening, not what folks are telling you.

Where to start? Each week, hang out in a place where you get the opportunity to listen to what is happening in the environment about which you want insights.

Here are some ideal places to start your exploring.

The lunchroom
People are probably their most natural selves during lunchtime. Hang out in the company cafeteria or wherever employees take their break. What are they talking about? Are they chatting about customers, their colleagues, their manager, processes, problems? Don’t interrupt their conversations. You’re there to listen.

Customer service
Hang out by the phones. Listen in on calls taken by your service team. What kind of questions are they asking? How is the service team resolving those issues? Are there problems that seem to come more often than others? Are people making requests that you may want to someday consider adding to your product or service line? 

The shop floor
Be where the action is. Be on the production floor. Observe how your people do their jobs. You may even want to spend time on the night shift if you have one. Find opportunities to watch employees in their element, whether that means spending time where they are taking calls or processing orders.

With people different from you
By hanging out with people you don’t know well or typically associate with, you gain a broader understanding of all points of view. Exploring diversity is incredibly insightful. Your clients and colleagues will come from different backgrounds, ethnicities and generations. You’ll be surprised by how much you can learn from them.

One great “hanging out” story came out of our work with a client in the pharmaceutical space.

ParagonRX was a young company which you can read more about in my book, On the Brink: A Fresh Lens To Take Your Business to New Heights.” Jeff Fetterman and Gary Slatko, the entrepreneurs who started ParagonRX, developed a great way to sell to pharmaceutical companies that needed to implement new processes in response to the newly established Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Solutions (REMS). The problem? Their “way” wasn’t selling.

Our firm, Simon Associates Management Consultsnts, was hired to help them figure out why an excellent process and solution stalled.

We hung out, spent lots of time in their offices, worked with their team on sales calls and attended meetings with the founders, watching them work on client projects.

Boy, can you learn a lot just hanging out!

What we saw—and how the client began to see his business with fresh eyes—led the company to rethink how they had packaged and positioned their REMS solution. They realized that they had to educate their clients so that they could make better decisions, which included partnering with ParagonRx to work through their REMS process.

It was our hanging out and becoming friendly with the staff that allowed ParagonRx’s people to grow comfortable with us to talk about their challenges. Once they trusted us, we were able to work with them and their clients to better understand how to build a new market with a new solution.

Maybe you should hang out and see what is really happening with your own business or with one of your prospective clients?

As an observer, we urge you to jump at this exciting opportunity to go exploring so you can mentally capture the a-ha moments and reflect on what you witnessed. Visual exploration can often reveal more insight than any interview, survey or verbal investigation ever could.

For more on how to go exploring, check out some of our most popular blogs and podcasts

Listen. Look. And Be Patient.

Marcel Proust had a great quote which I share often: “The real voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” So open those eyes—you’ll be amazed at all there is to see! You might also like to take a look at our process for helping entrepreneurs thrive.

Could your business benefit from a “little anthropology”?

At Simon Associates Management Consultants, we specialize in helping entrepreneurs and their companies  learn how to integrate anthropology into their business strategies so they can adapt to changing times. Please contact us to discuss how we might help your organization adapt and thrive. We look forward to hearing from you.

From Observation to Innovation,


Andi Simon, Ph.D.
Corporate Anthropologist | President
Simon Associates Management Consultants

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