“Ron Johnson Didn’t Understand Apple”

April 30th, 2013

Jay Haynes claims Ron Johnson failed at JC Penny because he misunderstood Steve Jobs’s statement that “You can’t just ask customers what they want”:

Ron Johnson took away the wrong message from Apple and decided not to analyze the jobs-to-be-done for JC Penney customers. Like almost every innovation effort that fails to analyze the customer’s job-to-be-done first, Johnson’s effort was a failure. But his biggest failure may be learning the wrong lesson from Apple and his former boss.

Jobs’s point was that you have to understand the needs customers have, rather than their expressed wants. Haynes presumes that because Johnson said that JC Penny shouldn’t test their changes since customers don’t know what they want, he meant customers don’t know what needs they have. That’s a huge leap that isn’t at all justified by the (second-hand) quote Haynes references nor by Johnson’s decision not to test changes. And one of Jobs’s other famous sayings is they do no market research for their products, and that they didn’t do any for the iPad because it isn’t the consumer’s job to know what they want.

I’m willing to bet that Johnson understands Apple quite a bit better than Haynes does, based upon this rather lazy attempt to connect a valid point—that there’s a difference between ignoring what people say they want and ignoring their needs—to Johnson’s failure at JC Penny. If you want to read a much more plausible take on why Johnson failed, Ken Segall’s is the one.