I was challenged recently to defend my assertion that we delivered the best service we could. "How can you say that you are delivering a good service," asked my challenger, "If you don't ask your customers what they want and then give it to them?" There was something about this that felt viscerally wrong to me, but I'm not a quick thinker - I'll never manage an elevator pitch unless the elevator breaks down - so it took until today for me to wake up with the answer.
Why should we think that what our customers want is necessarily the best thing for the service? Henry Ford famously said that he would never have developed the motor car if he had asked what his customers wanted, as what they would have asked for would have been a faster horse.
I find that all the time I am being asked for what in effect are faster horses, and I suspect that this is the position that most of us find ourselves in. Is it lack of assertiveness on our part, or lack of imagination on the part of our customers, that leaves libraries clip-clopping along on Dobbin?