Social desirability biases are a common problem in social science and market research. Most people will respond to direct questions by telling you what they think you want to hear, or by telling what they think will make them look good and impress you. This is the polite thing to do, right?
This problem is made worse if you then decide to do your research using focus groups. Now you have ratcheted up people's social desirability concerns by adding several other people for them to seek approval from. In that context it is hard to decipher signal from noise.
If the goal in a Lean Startup is to learn fast, then using some of these standard methods may not be useful. Within science, removing potentially confounding factors from our experiments is a central concern. Startup founders and organizations attempting to launch new products also need to learn to remove confounding factors from their experiments. Here are a few non-exhaustive pointers:
- Never ask people what they would do in particular situation, they have no idea. Its better to figure out a way to observe what they actually do.
- Never ask people whether they would buy your product, ask them to buy it NOW.
- Never ask people if they 'like' your product, unless your business model is winning popularity contests. This is literally a 'vanity metric'.
- Never run a focus group, unless your product is "getting people to sit around talking with each other".
- Never, ever, ever, ever talk about your solution, before you understand the customers' problem.
- Never, ever, ever, ever, ever do customer development research without an explicit hypothesis, and an idea of how you will know if you are right or wrong.
Always, get out of the building and talk to customers. There are no answers in the building.... The challenge is making sure that you are doing it right.