I heard an interesting story the other day about Apple. My wife was watching an old interview with Steve Jobs when the question of market research came up. Guess how much market research Apple does? Go ahead. Take a stab. According to this interview, Apple does exactly none. They don’t believe in it. Jobs said he doesn’t believe people actually know what they want until they see it. I was overjoyed to hear this. I have long disliked the idea of market research for precisely the reason Jobs articulated. Market research, it seems to me, would tell someone not what people want, but what they wanted. Everything that exists in the world right now is already a part of the past. Human desire, however, is pointed inexorably toward the future. We will use what already exists, what we have already wanted, but we will use it to create what does not yet exist, what we can feel but cannot yet see.
How can a writer not know this? How often have sat down at your desk with some idea in mind of what you want, some idea based on what you have written in the past, and then entered the fertile dream of the imagination and discovered that the cab driver in the second act is actually your heroine’s brother? You did not know you wanted this scene until you wrote it.
This is why market research can become an unintended funeral for human creativity. Your desires will change with you, and you will always change. We may sometimes wish it otherwise, we may sometimes recall when something seemed to go from bad to worse and inferred then that stasis is preferable to degeneration, but stasis is preferable to nothing because it does not exist. There is only change. Even a corpse returns to the earth. The past buries itself. Do not exhume its bones, but plant what you wish to grow upon its grave.
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