What will you need tomorrow?

I really like this post on Creating Passionate Users about innovation, Web 2.0 and user controlled content. Lots of people (myself included) have talked about this new wave of the Web (2.0) where everything is about the user… some have gone so far as to claim that it’s the end of the publishing/advertising/communications world as we know it (I know I’ve said that…) and that design and content will be placed in the hands of the customer… but as the people at Creating Passionate Users have pointed out… you can’t create things that you don’t know you need. That’s up to the innovators and innovation is still in the hands of a select few (thousand) talented minds.

Other points I liked from this post:

“Our users will tell us where the pain is. Our users will drive incremental improvements. But the user community can’t do the revolutionary innovation for us. That’s up to us.”
and

“The world never needed the iPod until Apple created it. Now, look how many of us could not live without it.”

Great stuff to think about, especially if you’re looking at Web 2.0 much in what you do. The point, as Creating Passionate Users puts it, is that “The creation of art is not the fulfillment of a need, but the creation of a need.”

It kind of goes back to Seth Godin’s whole Purple Cow thing in some respects, focus your money on research and development… learn the market and create remarkable products.

But I would love to sit down and argue with the Creating Passionate Users people about one point… with the proliferation of data out there about what people do (or don’t) need…isn’t part of innovation being able to look at the needs that arise out of the data, spot trends and then respond to them?

Apple created the iPod… but let’s not forget that this was just a digital update of an already successful product, created to meet a need. I don’t think it’s possible to “create” a need.

The need either exists or it doesn’t. I think it’s possible to have a need that you don’t realise you have… until someone points it out for you. But you can’t “create” a need where one doesn’t exist.

Here’s what I mean…

I’m not sure it’s entirely accurate to say people didn’t know they needed iPods until they were invented. First of all, the iPod is actually just an mp3 player. Mp3 players had been around for years before the iPod ever appeared (I had a Creative Labs 6Gb Jukebox)… Apple responded to a need, which was the average person needing a way to take LOTS of music with them everywhere they go… and to have a device that was simple for the average person to use and small enough to not be an inconvenience. Previous mp3 players were difficult for the average person to use, so they were only used by early adopters…

But even that isn’t a need that was created… prior to mp3 players, there were walkmen and discmen. Both of these products had their limitations. Sound quality wasn’t good on cassettes and it was difficult to carry more than a few cassettes around without damaging them, etc… discmen helped with some of that problem but again limited you to what you could physically carry… so if you left the house and were going to the gym, then to work and then to a friend’s house… you might want different music for each occasion and carrying a bunch of CDs around with you is a hassle. So the need for something better already existed… the early mp3 players met the need, they did not create the need, and all Apple did was make it better.

Now to the average person, it appears as though Apple revolutionized the world of music… and they do deserve credit for creating very passionate users of their product… and they used insights derived from people’s experiences with walkmen, discmen and early mp3 players to develop a set of features that make the iPod an indispensable part of our lives…
but to say that Apple invented the need to carry around your entire music collection with you would be false…

We don’t create needs, we create innovative ways to meet them… which to me points to the fact that innovative ideas that solve problems for people (before they even know they have a problem) is the future.

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