Listening involves understanding the market and the organization’s position in it. Alongside market research there is a careful dialogue with potential users, customers, opinion formers, technologists and other manufacturers and suppliers.

Often employees find it hard to listen closely during these dialogues. Their own experience of the status quo, or of what is technically possible, leads them to make assumptions about what the customer’s needs really are, what is inferred rather than explicit.

The objective of this activity is to identify unmet needs that represent real commercial opportunities.

Outcomes could include competitive analysis, SWOT, portfolio analysis, future markets scenarios and trends, and, most importantly, a description of user needs. These are encapsulated in a narrative about what the user is trying to achieve. This story has to be engaging and detailed enough for it to be possible to test alternative solutions against it.

Later in the process listening is used to keep a track of changes in the market, and to check that the product really does fulfil the unmet needs in detail.