Photo by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash

So I am on a plane with my family heading home from a summer vacation trip. As I am helping my youngest son get situated, showing him how to select a personalized in-flight movie, my naturally retrospective mind thought back to the days of when you were lucky if the flight you were on had a movie at all. It made me appreciate how convenient entertainment had become on flights. Understand that flying isn’t one of my favorite things to do – I am much happier when the wheels hit the ground. In air entertainment is a great way for me to get my mind off of the fact that we are flying at 500mph somewhere around 30-40K feet in the air and if something goes wrong there is very little I can do to protect myself and my family.

So as I am pondering these things with genuine appreciation a voice can be overheard on the speakers indicating that “in -flight wifi will not be available”. To myself I think – “oh well, we have other things to entertain us”. But the collective mumbling of the other passengers indicated that I may be in the minority. The fellow behind me was vocal in his frustration – and in one of those frequent moments where I give little thought to what I am going to say I turned around and said: “Well, I remember when it wasn’t even an option”.  I immediately realized it was a dumb thing to say – not only did it make me sound old, it was pretty condescending. I intended it as more of an observation – but in hindsight it was a poor choice. Luckily that man didn’t overreact and simply said “Yeah.. But now it is.”.

It took me several week to process that interaction. It was a simple seemingly insignificant interaction yet for some reason I kept thinking about it. I felt it was ok for me to be thankful for these things – and I wouldn’t change that at all. It’s a critical contributor to contentment and valuing the things that matter. However – assuming everyone else should also be content is off – it’s an assumption that the thing that is solving your problem is somehow solving everyone else’s. But aside from its impact on relationships why does this matter?

 I am an optimist and get excited about the value that things can provide. The problem with some optimists (like myself) is they have difficulty understanding problems because they are focused on the part of the glass that is full. That’s what I did in this situation – I fell in love with the technology of in-flight entertainment but failed to understand the problem it was solving. The reality of it was many (maybe most) of the folks had far different use cases for these tools. While I was simply looking for a distraction from my fears – they were likely using it for productivity, communication, research, who knows what else.  Because I didn’t understand this I minimized the reliance these folks had on these things.

So my naturally retrospective mind once again goes back to this event and asks what can I learn here?

  1. Just because you are happy with something doesn’t mean everyone else is. Pay close attention to what others are saying. This can be beneficial in product development because while we may think we have created a slick solution for something – if we haven’t solved the customer’s problem it simply doesn’t matter. Many organizations get caught up in selling their own ideas and lose sight of what customers actually cares about. (Value isn’t what we perceive – it’s what others see).
  2. “Yeah.. But now it is” – This opened my eyes. The customer’s view as the norm is reality (not mine). It doesn’t matter if they didn’t have access to it two years ago – if they have it now it has become table stakes. It explains why Salesforce took off. Once customers became accustom to having sophisticated software without having to deal with on-prem updates and installations, it became expected.  (Value must exceed the expectations of others)
  3. Empathy pays off. Taking the time to understand what people expect and why they rely on those things helps us re-align our internal vision for value. In my situation I should have keyed off of the grumbling and taken it as an opportunity to understand “why” it was creating a pain point. It was a perfect opportunity for a valuable conversation – but instead I blew it. Training ourselves to do this gives us opportunity to create those solutions we love so much. But we can’t do it if we don’t take the time to listen. (Empathy uncovers root cause)

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