Archives for June 2013

6 June 2013 - No Comments!

Forget Differentiation. Why Not Solve A New, Big Problem.

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.

Read here to get the basics of what trends investigation is and here to learn how trends reveal opportunities for radical innovation.

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.

1 June 2013 - No Comments!

Use Trends To Create Game Changing Ideas

In his famed commencement speech to Stanford graduates in 2005, Steve Jobs used the term "connecting the dots" to describe how three things - dropping out of college, experiences with austerity and a hobby in calligraphy - all collided to form an appreciation for typography, which years later lead to the eventual success of Mac and Apple products.

In his speech, Jobs emphasized that "you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward," but you know what, Steve?  I disagree.  Trends investigation is a way of connecting the dots looking forward, by examining patterns formed amongst the observable signs of change that are emerging all around us.

Jobs lead Apple in creating entirely new products and experiences that tapped previously uncharted demand.  The iPod created a craze for something previously unimaginable to most consumers.  The iPad carved out a new product category that hoards across the globe desperately wanted, even before they knew exactly what to do with it.  Jobs' vision for the design and organization of Apple stores created an entirely new retail experience, a significant shift in commerce that is defining the future of retail across all sectors.

Jobs' knack for disrupting the market (and his own bottom line) with radical innovation is oftentimes attributed to his notoriously obstinant personality and something vague about intuition. Available as a more accesible and systematic approach, however, trends investigation can help businesses and designers connect the dots to inform radical innovation in any field.

Imagine being a trends investigator in Marin County, California in the mid-to-late 1970s, noticing that a fringe group of cyclists were modifying heavy cruiser bikes with better brakes and fat tires to freewheel down rough terrain mountain trails... Connect the dots between similar activities in Crested Butte, Colorado and Cupertino, California and hypothesize that a new sport may be forming, requiring a new type of bicycle suited to the rigors of off-road riding.

It took nearly three decades for the major bike brands to recognize the signs of emerging innovation all around them.  Had a trends investigator actually had been employed by the industry, the opportunity to create what is now the largest grossing product category of the bicycle sector may have been captured by a savvy player sooner rather than later.

Imagine, again, being a coolhunter sitting at the edge of a drained swimming pool in Venice, California, watching Z-Boys skateboarders seed a new cultural niche inspired by faster speeds, dangerous tricks, slash grinds and a freestyle, urban spirit  in the mid-to-late 70s.  Skateboarding culture eventually trickled out to the mainstream, affecting the style, behavior and preferences of generations worldwide.  Someone with a good eye and skill for trends, however, could have connected the dots in a forward manner, forecasting skating's lasting influence on fashion, music, media, marketing and a whole slew of business and civic opportunities.

At this very moment, coolhunters, foresight specialists and trends investigators are connecting the dots between emerging innovation occurring now that is sure to affect consumer and societal culture for decades to come.  You can check out the type of signals we track on sites like those of my clients - including PSFK, LS:N Global, Stylus and Canvas8 - and on the sites of the many similar services out there combing the fringes of all things new and interesting.

By including foresight specialists in your next innovation process, or by learning our future thinking techniques yourself, your next product, strategy or service has a better chance of being truly disruptive, blowing your consumer's expectations wide open and establishing your brand as the industry leader to beat.