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Understanding customers: Lessons from great writers
A decade ago I embarked in a round-the-world literary adventure, reading classics from top authors around the globe. The Russians kept me in rapture for a while, and in particular Dostoevsky. Crime and Punishment impressed me deeply. I was mesmerized by the author’s phenomenal ability to delve into the human psyche and into the brain of his characters.
Working with early stage tech companies, I believe those skills would be very beneficial to tech entrepreneurs seeking to find customers for their product inventions. Customer validation represents a challenge for many technologists. Delving into the heads of others (aka customers) is not something that comes readily to engineers, lacking the humanist training of liberal arts majors.
The benefit of great writers' insights
Reading Dostoevsky is like getting guided tour of the human psyche. He takes us deep inside the mind of his characters, and sheds lights on what motivates human behavior. For entrepreneurs, those lessons can be invaluable. As we seek to construct a meaningful understanding of our target customers, we need to be able to see the world through their eyes. Ron Conway, a legendary Silicon Valley angel investor, calls it getting the brain of our customer inside our brain.
This is the turf where great novelists undisputedly excel. We can learn from reading their works. In Crime and Punishment Dostoevsky masterfully nudges us to suspend our judgment and seek meaning for Raskolnikov, an impoverished student alleged to have committed murder. The revelations are stupendous and illuminating.
We can all benefit from the flashes of light and astounding vision of Dostoevsky, Shakespeare and the like, regardless of our college major. Great books help stretch our minds and our understanding of the world and people around us – and that goes for the customers we seek to please.
Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Make sure you get a good translation; it can turn a bore into a movable feast. I highly recommend Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear’s.
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