Here is how I imagine the conversation would go:
Me: So tell me what you want, what you really, really want?
Them: I’ll tell you what I want what I really, really want.*
A lot of your customers and users will be a lot like Spice Girls. I don’t mean cute and bubbly but rather fixated on their most obvious and most, ahem, basic needs, which means that they are unlikely to ponder far-fetched possibilities or to provide you with unanticipated insights on the spot. This is not because focus groups can’t brainstorm — they are just not primed to think out of the box like product designers are paid to do. The results of such a focus group exercise are bound to be predictable and boring, and they will most likely agree with what you already know about your potential users and market.
Now consider our effort to poll people about our future startup’s name (you can see how that went here). LikeWisely was my top choice, but the multiple levels of meaning and the play on words was not well-received, probably because these things are not on the surface as they are with just❤liked, which is much more literal. In the end we accepted that just❤liked was a decent choice appealing to a large segment of the audience but perhaps a choice lacking in imagination and finesse.
The point is not to offend Spice Girls in particular or focus groups in general. The point is that, despite your best intentions, good product ideas cannot be pried from any perfectly informed and sensible focus group. The good news is that you get to keep your job. The bad news is that you, the product designer, still have to come up with great ideas, convert them to hypotheses that can be validated on a set of flesh and blood users, and validate them. At no point should you suffer the illusion that what you get back will be informed by the audience’s imagination or their desire to find a solution to the problem.
You’d be lucky enough to get back another grumble about zig-ah-zig-ah*.