Would you pay $1,400 for a smart iron? The Swiss company Laurastar thinks so, which is why they recently debuted their Laurastar Smart iron at the IFA tradeshow in Berlin.

The iron connects to an app that provides ironing tutorials and real-time guides to improve your ironing technique, just in case you’ve reached that point in your life when you can afford a $1,400 iron but don’t know how to use it.”
CNET

Now, we should give Laurastar a little slack in this case. For 35 years they have developed and sold professional grade ironing systems and $1,400 is reasonable in the context of their product line.

However, in many cases, companies that rush to make their products look “smart” end up alienating their customers and look kinda “dumb” in the process. If you’re interested in seeing the long parade of gadgets that have been made “smart” for no apparent reason, follow @internetofshit on Twitter. It’s an account devoted entirely to poking fun at questionable IoT products.

Maybe we should stop laughing…

These kinds of IoT products concern me; they can be disappointing to consumers and damaging to businesses. Within the next few years we will see over 20 billion devices that are connected to the Internet with almost two-thirds of them consumer applications.

In any emerging field, trust is crucial for adoption by the consumer. Companies that add the “smart” label without adding value to consumers can erode that trust, making it difficult for the companies that are providing real value.

As businesses, we know that products adding significant value to consumers are products that consumers love. And products that are loved are products that are sold.

So why is it so hard for companies to create IoT products that consumers love?

“We are biased toward telling instead of asking because we live in a pragmatic, problem-solving culture in which knowing things and telling others what we know is valued.”
—Edgar Schein,
Humble Inquiry.

US culture values telling. We value the strong leader who seems to have all the answers. We want our politicians to tell us, “I know exactly how to solve all our problems”, despite these problems involving such complexity that a simple answer might not be possible. Admitting ignorance can be seen as a sign of weakness.

Unfortunately, this cultural tendency to tell rather than ask is the primary reason we see the issues in IoT described above. Rather than ask, “What does the consumer want?” or “How can we add value and improve their lives?”, too often companies try to tell the consumer what they want. Developing a new, cutting-edge piece of technology doesn’t mean that consumers need it.

The Internet of Things has the potential to revolutionize every industry on our planet and to help billions of lives along the way.

But if we are going to help improve people’s lives, first we need to understand their needs. We need to stop telling and start asking.