Why Pleasing the big boss is not the solution / by Chris Hubbard

I can say with absolute confidence that over a hundred books must have been written with one objective; reminding businesses to keep the customer in mind when designing products, advertising, packaging, and written communications. No, make that a thousand. I can't even fathom the number of blog posts on the subject. The prophets have spoken; business common sense points to a universal truth that everything you do for your business should be done with the end user in mind. It's been said and repeated, but will be said again; and again.

The reason for this is fairly obvious; a large portion of the business community seems perfectly content ignoring it. 

This seems to be especially true in Taiwan, the country I love and have been working in for over 6 years now. Here, corporate focus on hierarchy and face is a powerful force not to be diminished by one person in the room who thinks it's a bad way to make decisions. 

Time after time I find myself in meetings where the search for a solution seems to be focused almost exclusively on pleasing one person; The big boss. 

I'm not saying that the big boss's opinions, desires, hopes and dreams shouldn't matter, but the weight it carries should be questioned in a day and age where we know this type of thinking can weaken if not destroy opportunities for success. Even here in Taiwan people love to endlessly reference Steve Jobs as the iconic leader who drove decision making. I sometimes get the feeling that his popularity in Asia is due to the way he can sometimes be used to justify the "evil overlord" style of running things. But if you look closely at what he was doing and why, it doesn't take a microscope to see it was all about the customer.

Taiwan is facing a bit of a big business crisis it seems. On one hand, companies want to be known for their capacity to innovate. They want to improve their ability to market  messages and present themselves in ways that are current and relevant; it's not good enough to be a factory with no face anymore. And the customers don't really care what the boss thinks either.

There's something easy and comforting in strong hierarchy systems. Everyone knows who's boss and therefore who makes the call. Having a clear structure make's a lot of sense in most cases, and it's something Taiwanese companies have done well. However, it shouldn't get in the way of asking the most important question: "What would Hiroshi and Pracha do?"  

Some companies make the mistake of rewriting the question into one much easier to answer;  "what would we want Hiroshi and Pracha to do?" While this is a valid and worthwhile conversation to have,  it's not the same thing, and refusing to acknowledge that reality gets everyone into trouble.

At DDG, we have a simple brand catalyst; "Listen, Comprehend, Enhance, Inspire." This is specifically about our end users, and I feel it's effective at bringing their needs into the conversation; the one we have in reality, as well as the one in our heads as we strenuously brainstorm solutions. Of course we aren't the only ones who think this type of approach is valuable; this quick read by Fast Company preaches another version.

My point is, that while a steady stream of books and articles continues to be written and read on the subject of outstanding customer service, less and less seems to be done about it. It's not hard to understand why; we live in a world filled with historical structures and values that pull us like a magnet in the wrong directions. Until big bosses' commit to thrusting this issue toward the top, we'll continue solving the wrong problems.

I still hold the hope that one day I find myself exclusively in meetings where the search for a solution is instead focused almost exclusively on pleasing a very different type of person; the customer.