During the 2013 bizbarcelona conference for entrepreneurs, Salim Ismail of Singularity University posed the question: What are you doing to improve the lives of one billion people in the next ten years?
Wow. Big challenge.
We are lucky to live in an era where doing so is more possible for the individual and the small team than ever has been before. To serve one billion people, however, (as well as take advantage of the market opportunities in doing so) we must abandon the safe path of differentiation for the pursuit of addressing new and previously unmet needs.
Differentiation is the strategy of tweaking an already established product or business model. Take a winning business strategy one location in the world and transplant it to another. Copy a successful product and wrap it in a new kind of packaging. Get inspired by a popular service design and vary the experience to address a different customer niche.
Taking a step change away from incremental innovation, fulfilling unmet needs requires both a healthy appetite for risk and a means of looking ahead to explore new, big problems (read: opportunities).
In the field of foresight and trends investigation, we call this “looking up the pipeline” – the act of scanning horizon change to identify emerging and significant needs. Where knowledge gathered by experience helps us identify and manage challenges already familiar to us, foresight gathered by trends investigation helps us identify and manage challenges yet to come our way.
The most lucrative opportunities do not come from modifying existing ideas, but in creating products and services that fulfill unmet needs.
Forget differentiation. Why not solve a new, big problem.