Hit or Miss? Merrick Furst on Business Innovation, Customer Illusion, and the Challenge of Authentic Demand

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We’re all walking around with a waking dream that we think tells us how the world works. If there’s one thing that the social sciences have figured out over the last few decades, it’s that we are opaque to ourselves…we don’t really know why we’re doing anything.

Outside of the purely physical and physiological, nothing is more challenging than the world of entrepreneurship and business, especially when facing customer indifference and figuring out market demand—the delicate balance between innovation and market reality.

How do you do that?

Professor Merrick L. Furst runs commercialization and new venture creation and directs undergraduate programs and faculty development in the College of Computing at Georgia Tech. Before GT, he was a professor at UC Berkeley, president of the International Computer Science Institute at Berkeley, and CEO of Essential Surfing Gear, Inc., which was sold in 2000, and anti-botnet startup Damballa. Earlier, he was a professor and associate dean at the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon. Mark is also known for seminal research in algorithms, complexity theory, and AI. He co-invented probabilistic circuit analysis and planning graphs, which are considered among the most influential breakthroughs in the field of AI planning.

Merrick is also the author of The Heart of Innovation: A Field Guide for Navigating to Authentic Demand, which is the touchstone for this podcast.

On the show, we discuss the challenges every business faces in creating products that truly meet customer needs.

  • A brief chat about AI.
  • Why and how products fail.
  • Real reasons vs. stated reasons people buy.
  • On the “curse of knowledge”
  • Validation vs innovation.
  • Authentic demand: sussing alternatives to not purchasing or using a product/service
  • “Non-indifference” as an indicator of authentic demand.
  • Observing vs listening and the problem with surveys.
  • How to question assumptions.
  • Product development and market match.
  • The need for humility and open-mindedness.


As we explore these diverse topics, Merricks’ unique approach offers invaluable lessons for entrepreneurs, technologists, and anyone intrigued by the intersection of business, technology, and human behavior.


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