Breaking the Mold: Rethinking Customer Needs in the Age of Anticipatory Thinking

Daniel Burrus
5 min readNov 16, 2023

To create the next great product or service, it has been standard practice to ask the customer questions like: “What do you want? What do you need? What will make your life easier?”

These simple inquiries should lead to a simple answer. It is then our responsibility as businesses and organizations to respond with products, services, or processes that meet customers’ needs while increasing our margins and market share. This has been the process of the past and has worked for generations, but does it truly work in today’s accelerated, technology-driven business environment?

In my many years as a strategic advisor and futurist, I have concluded that asking the customer what they want is no longer reliable. First, customers are telling others in your industry the exact same information, which leads to a high level of competition. Unfortunately, a professional footrace to a perceived finish line is not beneficial to anyone, especially the customer.

Second, customers rarely know their true wants or needs or what can really be achieved to satisfy them. They under-ask because they do not know what is possible. But in switching from reactionary to Anticipatory thinking, our job as business leaders is to show them what is possible. This is not as difficult as it may seem. We can show them what the future can be!

Underinflated Confidence in Current Products and Services

Now, looking for customer problems that need solving or listening to customers for new ideas can go only so far. This is a reactionary, “lead from behind” mindset that puts you at a disadvantage — not only with your competition, but with your customers as well.

What you need to do — similar to what serial entrepreneurs do — is look for pain points you already know about. These can range from a mild annoyance to a complete inconvenience. Let’s have a look at a simple product nearly everyone in this world has had an experience with at one point or another: bicycles.

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Daniel Burrus

#1 Bestselling Author, Global Futurist, Innovation Expert and Keynote Speaker. One of the World’s Leading Futurists on Global Trends and Innovation.