Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Everyone knows what that phrase means: beauty is subjective. But to me, it's always meant far more than that because so many things in life are subjective.

In business, your product is only good if customers are drawn to it, find it useful, and enjoy the experience. You can develop the world's greatest device or application, but if customers don't want it, need it, or enjoy using it, they won't buy it.

Likewise, your capabilities as a worker are only marketable if employers need what you have to offer. Lots of companies may pass on you, but as long as you find the one that likes your capabilities and style, that's a match made in business heaven.

In other words, real world success is always about understanding the needs and wants of your customers, your management, whoever you're trying to appeal to. It's very subjective and it isn't easy but it's nearly impossible if you lack that understanding because the truth is that your success is always in somebody else's hands.

Whether you're starting a company, developing a product, or selling yourself, I always tell people to take their perspective up a level. Before you start planning, developing, or selling, first do your best to understand what folks are looking for. Then figure out how to deliver the goods.

Really Understanding

Said another way, the most successful companies are the ones with a deep understanding of the application for their product. How their customers want to buy it, use it, experience it. And guess what? They want their employees to have the same perspective.

Steve Jobs was always a brilliant marketer, but what propelled him and Apple to the top was his unique ability to understand what people wanted to do. Then he designed products to meet that application. He developed devices that effortlessly did what people most wanted to do.

It didn't surprise me in the least to hear that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is looking to restructure the software giant and turn it into a "devices and services company." Why do you think that is? Ballmer learned the lesson from Jobs and Apple. Software may be Microsoft's expertise, but that's not what customers care about. They want complete solutions to their problems.

Also, demand for Xbox 360 has exploded since Microsoft began focusing not on the games, but on how people played them. Inventing Kinect, the body motion and voice-activated game controller, was a real breakthrough. And now Microsoft hopes to take that advantage to the next level by making the new Xbox One the hub for your living room.

Similarly, Intel Capital just launched a new $100 million fund to invest in what it calls perceptual computing technology, meaning how human senses interact with computing devices using voice recognition, facial recognition, eye tracking, or gesture control. Intel understands that demand for chips is all about making devices that use them more human-like in their interface.

The Takeaway

Business success isn't really about you and your capabilities. It isn't even about your company's expertise or your product's cool new features.

It's about elevating your perception to understand the needs of your customer, your management, whomever you're trying to appeal to. Once you get a handle on that, then, and only then, look at what you've got and figure out what you need to deliver the goods.

That's when you should start planning your company, developing your product, or selling yourself or your ideas to management. These days, it's hard enough just to get a shot at an opportunity. In all likelihood, you won't get a second chance. Don't waste it.

Remember, beauty is always in the eye of the beholder. And your success is always in somebody else's hands. Always.