This business case study of Ferran AdriÃ ‘s restaurant elBulli restaurant has nothing to do on the surface with cartoons, yet the conclusions of the study can be applied equally well to the animation industry.
In particular, this comment by Michael Norton of the Harvard Business School stands out:
“AdriÃ ‘s idea is that if you listen to customers, what they tell you they want will be based on something they already know. If I like a good steak, you can serve that to me, and I’ll enjoy it. But it will never be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To create those experiences, you almost can’t listen to the customer.”
One of the key points in Norton’s study is making a distinction between understanding and listening to customers; the former is what AdriÃ does. Apply this to the idea of focus grouping in animation, and you might see where I’m headed. Norton is saying that if AdriÃ focus-grouped his food to satisfy the preconceived notions of his customers, his restaurant would be no different from all the others. The reason his restaurant is sold out year-round is because he surprises the tastes and sensibilities of his customers with an unpredictable personal vision.