As famed Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt often told his students, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!” But CIOs often forget this fundamental truth, since it’s tempting — especially when you’re in a technology leadership role — to focus on digital products’ features and functions (or pricing) rather than customers’ underlying needs.

It’s only logical to think this way. After all, engineering and product teams invest years of effort, erudition and inquiry into creating technologies that will perform flawlessly. But the most successful organizations are those that can infuse insights from outside of a narrowly-circumscribed “business and technology” point of view into their digital transformation and long-term growth strategies.

Instead, leaders need to think outside the box, bringing ideas from a wide variety of academic and cultural domains to bear on the business problems at hand. What if — rather than planning like a technologist — you started out by assessing fundamental human needs from the perspective of a behavioral psychologist? What if — instead of taking a project manager or implementation lead’s point of view — you tried reasoning like a digital anthropologist?

It’s our contention that by doing so, you’d become far better able to understand the underlying human needs that should be driving every digital transformation project. By taking the time to consider the individual, social and cultural requirements at play, you can satisfy and engage the users whose experiences are most important for your company’s success.

Let’s take a closer look at what this entails:

Applying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to understand user expectations

Abraham Maslow first elaborated his “Hierarchy of Needs” theory of human motivation in a paper that was published in 1943. The theory has been further refined by other psychologists, but remains a widely-accepted framework that’s used to explain why humans do what they do. In Maslow’s hierarchy, human needs are described as existing within five different but interdependent levels. At the bottom are needs — for things like food and shelter — that are fundamental to survival, whereas closer to the top the needs become more social, psychological and aspirational in nature.

A fundamental lesson from Maslow is that all digital transformation projects should begin with mapping user expectations. Only by understanding what users expect — and appreciating what they want and need — can you be confident that you’re creating …….


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