Inspiration: Too many marketing people go through the motions...

Too many marketing people go through the motions of visiting customers, looking for facts that will confirm their previously formed opinions of what should be done.—Al Ries and Jack Trout

Every marketing resource—books, seminars, college courses—tells you to visit customers. You certainly don't learn anything about the market while sitting at your desk or in conference rooms. Yet even when we do visit customers, we often have a short-term agenda. "Do you like our user interface?" "Will you buy this if we make it?" "Can I have a sales guy call on you?"

My friend Luke Hohmann is an advocate of "Me and My Shadow," one of the many research methods found in his Innovation Games. Go visit a client—a customer or a potential customer—and watch them do the job. Be a shadow.

Poka-yoke (ポカヨケ) is a Japanese term that means "mistake-proofing." A poka-yoke is any mechanism in a lean manufacturing process that helps an equipment operator avoid (yokeru) mistakes (poka). Its purpose is to eliminate product defects by preventing, correcting, or drawing attention to human errors as they occur. For example, I once read about an x-ray film that dramatically reduced  incorrect diagnoses by putting "THIS SIDE UP" on the film itself. Doctors wouldn't accidentally read the film backwards because the label cued them instantly to the correct orientation. A very simple fix to prevent what could be a dangerous misdiagnosis.

These types of small improvements—often quite easy to create—can have huge ramifications in both safety and customer satisfaction. They only result from being close the action, from seeing your clients "in the wild," watching people doing the jobs that you're trying to improve.