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The Customer's Semi-Lucid Trance State

One of my favorite anecdotes comes from an Apple engineer I met during WWDC 1999. (Ironically, this Apple engineer’s nickname was support droid… probably not as cool now as it was then.)

The story goes that during the rather oppressive reign of System 7.5.3 for the Mac, one of the most common user complaints was that boot time was too long. The very next version featured a fancy rename to Mac OS 7.6. It also saw the boot time complaint plummet out of the top five into the high teens or so.

When asked what they did at the time to improve boot time, the engineer said “Not a damn thing”. Apparently, the mere name change was enough to hypnotize users into semi-lucid trance state while staring at the extensions loading across the bottom of the splash screen.

In actuality, Mac OS 7.6 just crashed far less than it’s multi-pointed predecessor. Users just weren’t needing to reboot as often.

Many, many times during the product development process, you are going to get customer feedback. The worst possible course of action would be to take their requests, demands, and thinly-veiled attempts at blackmail and implement them. The endgoal is to fundamentally understand the customer’s needs and problems. The disheartening alternative is to find that you have wasted time and capital on the wrong problem.

Always, always listen to your customers, but don’t always do what they say.

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