Half a lifetime ago, when I was a marketing manager for Braun appliances, a product engineer from our headquarters in Germany came to the United States to share initial plans for a new toaster.

His presentation started with a question: “What is perfect toast?” He then gave his answer: perfect toast meant achieving the exact level of brownness desired, achieving consistent brownness across the entire piece of bread, and achieving consistent brownness across multiple toasting cycles.

The company went on to build a toaster that delivered “perfect toast.” Unfortunately, it was over-engineered, oversized and way overpriced.

The engineer had started with the wrong question. Had he asked "What do U.S. consumers want and expect from a Braun toaster?" the product would have evolved in a very different (simpler, more compact, less expensive) direction.

Lesson: if you start with the wrong question, you’re toast.

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