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Don’t Challenge My Assumptions!

In a post on Maya Design’s blog, David Bishop asks, “Why is it so hard to talk to users?” and presents all the different excuses he’s heard for not engaging with customers in the design process.

In reading his post, I realized the answer to his question is simple, and wrote him the following:

People in organizations are afraid of what their customers actually think. If they had to face this reality, it would call into question many assumptions. People don’t want their assumptions challenged. So, they’d rather a) come up with excuses or b) use unhelpful “market research” tools like surveys and focus groups, tools whose data is squishy enough that it can be interpreted to suit any beliefs.

The reason I’m confident about this answer is because it’s pretty much true of human nature — we resist information that challenges what we already believe to be true. For many, if not most, companies, actual conversations with customers would demonstrate that closely held beliefs are actually canards.

  1. Is this equally true for Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives and all religions, sports fans and bloggers?

  2. I think you are right. I think it is embarrassment though. Our assumptions reveal our wish for status. When our project might change our status (upwards) we don’t want to have an open discussion. Any other assumption, we don’t give a fig about.

    So it’s always best to present ideas showing the way forward and people’s place in the new order. Unless the status issues are clear up front, there will be a lot of foot dragging. Great thinking fodder for some long train journeys ahead later today. Thanks.

  3. I am confident you are right, too, Peter. Maybe to state it more simply: Talking to users is hard because it is painful. (Painful in an organizational culture sort of way, more than in a personal way.)

  4. Hi, when we met at the ASIST AI thing in Vancouver I asked you about this and you told me that you had coined the term weblog but that […] Jorn Barger had coined the more popular term blog afterwards.

    The Wikipedia page at (URL:
    (`This page was last modified on 18 June 2009 at 09:05.’) says `Barger coined the term weblog to describe the process of “logging the web” as he surfed. The short form, “blog”, was later coined by Peter Merholz.’

    I bet Britannica doesn’t get that wrong!

    Wishing you all the best

  5. Jamie–I think you mis-heard or mis-remember Peter’s original comment. He did coin “blog” and I’m sure knows it. Weblog was coined first, then wordsmith Peter re-spaced the letters into we blog and blog was born.

    At a much earlier date, I coined the phrase “nuts is good,” which Wikipedia has, so far, not acknowledged.

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