This is the age of evidence and fact-based decision-making. Gut instinct and feelings need to be kept firmly in check.
In March 2009, Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, spent a week working on the floor in one of Amazon's distribution centers. No, it wasn't a PR stunt. There were no cameras and no interviews allowed. Bezos was doing something much more important. He was trying to truly understand how a distribution center actually works.
Bezos is in the business of self-service. And the first skill of a self-service manager is to remove the ego. It is to accept that you are not the customer, you are not the typical employee. So, the way you buy, the way you work, is NOT the way you should design for.
That's hard, but it's the reason McDonald's and Wal-Mart have been so successful. When Sam Walton (who founded Wal-Mart) went on vacation, his family tried to stay away from cities and towns because Sam couldn't pass a supermarket without stopping and observing.
Ray Kroc, who founded McDonald's, spent his life watching customers. Sure, he had ideas for new burgers that he was sure would be a hit. He tested and when the data showed no up-take, he let those ideas die.
The Web is the land of self-service. It needs managers like Jeff Bezos, Ray Kroc and Sam Walton, who observe, test, refine, and follow the data, not emotion and ego.
According to blogger Robert Scoble, Facebook has never listened to its customers. Its founder Mark Zuckerberg "is a real leader because he doesn't care what anyone thinks. He's going to do what he thinks is best for his business. I wish Silicon Valley had more like him."
Ah, so this is what Web 2.0 is really about. Napolean-on-horseback leaders who show nothing but contempt for those who dare to question their genius.
Scoble was writing about the current Facebook redesign which received extremely negative initial feedback from customers. Now there is a point here. Sometimes, people don't know what they really want until they've tried the new thing a few times. So, fundamentally, the issue is not that you should listen to your customers and be lead by whatever they say, but rather that you should understand them.
In interviews, Mark Zuckerberg does not come across as the petty dictator Scoble makes him out to be. Speaking to Newsbeat in March 2009, he stated: "We trust that with an open dialogue our users will get us to the right place." A Facebook spokesperson later told Newsbeat: "We are listening carefully to what people are saying about the new home page … We encourage people to send us constructive, detailed feedback and are committed to using it to inform how we build and improve the site for everyone."
In the past, Facebook has certainly changed course as a result of customer feedback. (For example, when they received extremely negative feedback about their new privacy policies.)
This is the age of evidence, not opinion. Strong leadership is about saying: "let's test this idea." It is not a sign of weakness to observe and listen. Strength comes from understanding customer behavior data, and the Web is a perfect environment in which to gather such data.