But the focus group loved it

John writes in and wants to know why I don’t think much of focus groups.

A properly run focus group is great. The purpose? To help you focus.

Not to find out if an idea is any good. Not to get the data you need to sell your boss on an idea.


Focus groups are very bad at that. Groupthink is a problem, for one. Second, you’ve got a weird cross section of largely self-selected people, the kind of people willing to sit in a room with bad lighting to make a few bucks.

What focus groups can do for you is give you a visceral, personal, unscientific reaction to little brainstorms. They can help you push something farther and farther to see what grabs people. But the goal isn’t to do a vote or a census. Any time your focus group results include percentages, you’ve wasted an afternoon.