The standard response of many people is that they know what others need/want. It's an easy trap to fall into – it requires less effort on our part to go and find out (which can seem expensive and time-consuming), it allows us to continue in thinking that we know them well (possibly even better than they know themselves) and it means we can give them what we've already got/know we can provide.
The problem is, we're often wrong.
"All my life, all I've ever really wanted was to help people. But you can't help anyone unless you understand what they want, what they need, how they feel. Otherwise you'll never do the right thing. It's like-"
"Like when you bought me those shoes last Christmas in a color I'll never, ever wear."
The couple in question here are Clark Kent and Lois Lane from a recent issue of Superman, but let's face it they could have been any one of us.
The other thing, of course, is that we often assume that's what is needed is something bigger and more complex than people on the receiving end really want. We saw that in some recent work with a client salesforce – it wasn't about more detailed product information or better sales training or any of the other things that our colleagues had in mind. Instead it was a chance to sit and talk with peers, to share horror stories and success stories.
The best example I've seen recently was the work by Irene Guijt, Rockefeller Foundation and GlobalGiving using SenseMaker™. Irene is caught on video here, talking about her experience. The work had been done in Kenya to understand the impact and effects of community projects. Citizens across Kenya shared over 3000 stories, some about funded community projects, some about "grassroots" community efforts, and some about life in general. The results – what people on the ground wanted – was very different from what aid experts (and funders) had expected (and been geared up to provide).
Full details – including project files and the final report – are available at Cognitive Edge's website here.