HowTo — Customer Discovery Requires Humble Inquiry

humble inquiry

Ed Schein’s new book Humble inquiry is fantastic! It dives deep into the topic of Humble Inquiry that was introduced in his previous book Helping. There are lots of examples and detailed discussion of what is and what isn’t Humble Inquiry. In Chapter 3 he describes the differences between four styles of Inquiry — 1) Humble Inquiry 2) Diagnostic inquiry 3) Confrontational inquiry 4) Process-oriented inquiry. This helped me understand how my attempts at Humble Inquiry often get derailed. I can start by being curious and humble, but I often want to get something done and lose my curiosity in the other person.

I really liked the 3 chapters that tackle the “impediments”, “inhibitors”, and “resistances” to the use Humble Inquiry. Often the technique of Humble Inquiry seems obvious when one wants to develop a relationship, but it is rarely used. It is good to know why it is rarely used. In terms of “impediments” I particularly like the observation that American culture stifles the use of Humble Inquiry because we don’t value relationships. Relationships are not a high priority, they’re a nice to have. The high priority is Individual Doing and Telling. If a relationship is required to do something then we’ll develop it minimally. Otherwise we’ll blow people off.

Our own society was built on rugged individualism, and that’s the number one principle and ideal that we will not give up under any circumstance. If that requires occasional relationships and team work, then we will do it, knowing that really, it is the star that counts. » Ed Schein (Look below for full Question)

Why Is Humble Inquiry Important to Entrepreneurship?

It is my view that the most important skill in Customer Discovery is Humble Inquiry. That is developing a relationship with ones customer and their eco-system via the use of Humble Inquiry. Be curious, learn the market space, and serve it.

I find it interesting that Schein does not mention Humble Inquiry in an Entrepreneurial context. Most of his examples are based on leaders needing to be humble in order to get their underlings to speak openly to them. He says that leaders need to be sincerely curious to earn the trust of their underlings. The leaders own this problem. If the leaders are not humble then the underlings will not communicate openly.

In my view this is exactly the challenge of the entrepreneur marketing & selling his products. He believes that he is a leader and thus has the right to “Do and Tell” how great his product is. But the customer is just like an underling, he wants the entrepreneurs to take a sincere interest in him. The customer wants the entrepreneurs to really understand him, to solve his problem without asking. He doesn’t want to be sold. The entrepreneur needs to earn the customer’s trust.

This customer relationship building is much easier to execute on via the tactics of Humble Inquiry. All the Customer Discovery Interview HowTo’s from Cindy Alvarez, Steve Blank, Eric Ries, etc are written in the context of Humble Inquiry. This is why Customer Discovery is so challenging for most people. Few people are good at, or practice, developing relationships.


Edgar H. Schein outlines the Leadership Lesson on his new book: ‘Humble Inquiry’ – YouTube

Interview Notes

Impediments to Humble Inquiry – The Culture of Do & Tell
RCRC Connect – Ed Schein Speaks About His New Book – Humble Inquiry « rcrc connect

full question below.

Bill: In Chapter 4, “The Culture of DO and TELL,” you note the incongruence in American culture between espoused values and the deeper cultural assumptions that are manifested in actual practice. One example you cite is that we “value teamwork” and yet assume rugged individualism. How can we carry two dichotomous values that are often in conflict and expect to be effective?

Ed: Such seeming inconsistencies are the characteristic of cultures in all societies, everywhere. The fundamental rules by which we operate are often in conflict with each other. But we have to do both for the society to function. In every society, there is a system for getting ahead and a whole bunch of denial about how that system disadvantages a bunch of other people. How can a society based on “royalty” function, when it is obvious that there are all sorts of problems created by a few people being rich and powerful, while a whole bunch of other people are poor and powerless. So societies create myths and live with their hypocrisies.

If we confront it and say let’s redistribute everything like communists tried to do, we have already learned that biologically we cannot live in an egalitarian way. The one thing that anthropologists who have studied status systems find is that we have built into us biologically a need to get ahead. This means that there will always be a status system in every society. Our own society was built on rugged individualism, and that’s the number one principle and ideal that we will not give up under any circumstance. If that requires occasional relationships and team work, then we will do it, knowing that really, it is the star that counts. But we sometimes have to be a team, and we then rationalize and claim that we can do both.

But if you look at reward systems, and how our society functions, it is fundamentally rugged individualism all the way through. That societies have mixed motives and inconsistent assumptions operating is one of the great truths of human societies. Not just ours; all of them

Business Model Canvas in Action – Osterwalder’s New Videos

Alex Osterwalder & Team have put together a 6 useful videos that illustrate the Business Model Canvas in practice. I particularly like videos 4 and 6. Video 4 describes how to analyze your canvas with respect to external attributes like Market Forces, Key Trends, Industry Forces, and Macro-Economic Forces. Video 6 describes how to present your Business Model Canvas to others. They are crisp and short & sweet.