They say the first sign of an addiction is acknowledgement.

No one likes to admit they are “addicted” to their mobile phone, or an online game, or anything that doesn’t seem to fit in the norm of being “productive.” I heard this week that more than 50% of all teenagers believe they are “addicted” to their phones and use their phones on average nine times each hour.

Readers were loyally attached to the local movie listings that were originally removed from The Dallas Morning News entertainment Web site design.
Readers were loyally attached to the local movie listings that were originally removed from The Dallas Morning News entertainment Web site design.

My family was recently a victim of an Internet outage at our home. We waited patiently thinking it was temporary, and then panic set in.

How would we keep our data consumption low without wi-fi? How would we get Internet programme-based homework done for my fifth-grader? How would we “check in” with my 7-year-old’s game to maintain his status?

Perhaps more personally, I began to wonder if I could make it through a few days without conducting real research and deliver productive work from home.

Thankfully the outage came on a Friday night. Heading into the weekend, I worked tirelessly to keep three young boys busy outside of the house and off of devices. I even felt a bit relieved that I couldn’t get real work done, even if I wanted to.

And then Sunday came. It was our second full day without wi-fi in our home. We began scrambling for alternatives. Local coffee shops, the neighbours, and family connections were all viable options to complete what we really needed to get done — and we survived, barely.

In reflecting on the pain of that weekend, only now can I see it as a gift. My son learned a valuable lesson in being resourceful because going to school without homework complete was not an option. Our family time consisted of outdoor activities and conversations around dinner tables that were usually silenced by heads buried in phones.

And when I think about the work I couldn’t get done, I now understand the weekend was a gift in understanding true customer satisfaction.

Often we focus too much of our effort on the masses, looking for ways to prioritise product development and experiences to hit the majority of users.

What we should be focusing on more often are the few features that our consumers can’t or don’t want to live without. These are the things that drive habitual behaviour, keep them coming back for more, and, therefore, hold the most value — a value that largely goes untapped because it’s often not measured or even charged for at all.

When we re-designed our entertainment site, we intentionally made sweeping changes. We knew initially our audience would need to find their way through our new navigation. But what we didn’t expect is that the items we removed because they simply weren’t driving mass traffic were some of the most favoured experiences in the previous site.

The most consumer feedback came from consumers having trouble finding movie listings. Really? I can think of a half-dozen sites that easily list local movie theater times, and our site would be low on the consideration set. It’s really irrelevant.

But our consumers made it loud and clear that we offered a service and, when it was taken away, created frustration in finding a replacement. We promptly made changes and improved the experience based on their feedback. But it got me thinking, “How did we get to this place to begin with?”

One of my favourite Clay Christensen quotes is: “The hardest place to re-invent a business model is inside of that business model.” And I believe the sentiment applies to product development.

It’s difficult enough to make radical changes when you are used to status quo. But it’s even more difficult to imagine a product as a start-up. Well-funded start-ups have the opportunity to build features and enable consumer behaviour to drive the features that will become sticky. They adapt quickly and leverage that into their consumer value proposition.

It’s key to shed all legacy business and product thinking and be completely open to the path your most loyal consumers take you down.

I’ve read about all of the negative side effects digital natives will face growing up in a world buried in their phones, and they may benefit the most from an increased level of creativity. Perhaps their moms will as well when forced to focus on family oriented activities away from the ease of a device as a babysitter!