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There’s More to Hot Sauce than Meets the Tongue – How to Jumpstart Business Idea Generation

Posted by Plish on March 7, 2018

Hot sauces

They’re everywhere.  From mild to scorching, these heat packed condiments can perk up almost any dish – if perky is what you want.

How do we come up with new ways of growing a hot sauce business?

There are multiple ways to come up with new business ideas.  One of the processes I use for generating multiple ideas quickly is illustrated below.  It’s based on a simple process.

  1. List the traits/attributes of a specific product/service (I use VUE) Those are shown in purple in the concept map below. (Color coding helps tremendously in keeping track of ideas.  I could even do more color coding by group)
  2. Think of ways of enhancing or changing the attributes.  These are the ideas. These are shown in green.
  3. Let one idea lead to another – don’t censor yourself!

Hot Pepper Ideas-copy.pngThe PDF of the above document is here


This use of Attributes can be even further structured. While I just took traits as they popped into my mind, there are other tools that I use that are slightly more structured and they can be used to guide idea generation.

(In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m actually using these additional frameworks, it’s just second nature and I don’t think about it as much.)

It’s about POEMS

Not poetry, but POEMS. This acronym was developed by the folks over at the Illinois Institute of Technology-Institute of Design. The POEMS framework is not actually an idea generating tools per se.    It is a research framework. It provides a memorable way to code/categorize observations.  However, I use it  as a way to jump start ideation.

POEMS is an acronym for:






For each of the above, list everything you know about each one and then subtract, add or change the attribute.

People – Who uses this?  Using the Pepper Sauce example, people typically think of hot sauce as geared towards adults.  What about making a hot sauce for children?

Objects – What are the objects that people interact with?  Bottles, the sauce itself which is made up of vinegar, spices, sugar, peppers, etc.  Eliminate the bottles.  Eliminate an ingredient.

Environment – Where are the products or services used?  Where are hot sauces used? Kitchens, at the meal table, in a car.  Where can the use of hot sauces be extended?  Can where they’re made be changed?  

Messages/Media – What messages are typically conveyed?  What do labels and other media look like? For Hot Sauce, why do labels always using scary, intimidating images?  Can a container label be inviting and gentle?

Services – How are products delivered?  How are they sampled? How are they bundled?  What places have hot sauces?  There are health values to the capsaicin, what about selling that idea/product at boutique spas?  What about developing medicinally spike pepper sauces?  What could you add to give them more nutritional value?

If POEMS isn’t fruitful try AEIOU.

It’s similar to POEMS, but AEIOU gives a slightly different twist. Each framework can give you new ideas.

Activities – What do people want to accomplish, what needs to get done
Environments – The setting and context
Interactions – Are between people/people, people/objects, objects/objects
Objects – The things in the environment, things people use
Users – The people using the product, trying to accomplish something

So, there you have it.  What do you do to jump-start new ideas?

NOTE: If you actually want to try out a hot sauce idea, let me know 😉


Posted in brainstorming, Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, Design, Disruptive Innovation, idea generation, innovation, Innovation Tools, product design, Service Design, Workplace Creativity, ZenStorming | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Want to Innovate? Don’t Forget the Prosciutto! (It’s not just about food)

Posted by Plish on January 25, 2018


This doesn’t look impressive does it?

But it smells and tastes delicious!!

What does this have to do with innovation?


The Road to Innovation is Paved with Prosciutto

The other day I was poaching an egg for breakfast.  I had some baked prosciutto chips that I had made a few days earlier.  I didn’t want to throw the crunchy pieces on the finished egg so I figured I’d re-hydrate them by throwing them in the water with the egg.

A mouthwatering aroma started rising from the water…

When the egg was done I took the egg and soft prosciutto out of the water.

I ate the egg and prosciutto with a slice of flax bread, and it was tasty.  But, I was intrigued by what I was still smelling in the pot.    I took a spoon and tasted it.

…hmmmm…not bad…

I poured some into a ramekin, added salt and pepper.

…Wow! REALLY good!

I immediately recorded what I had done in Evernote, along with some ideas for how I could use this stock next time.

After cleaning up, I did some searching and found that prosciutto stocks are a known delicacy. So, while I hadn’t discovered something totally new, nonetheless it was something we would call an innovation.

How did we go from poached egg with Prosciutto (everyday thing) to Innovation (Prosciutto Stock)?

Notice that the innovation isn’t even what I was going for.  I didn’t create a crazy type  of prosciutto egg.   I made prosciutto stock.

How did this happen?

During the course of one experiment (trying to soften the prosciutto while poaching the egg) I made an observation, remember?

A mouthwatering aroma started rising from the water…

When experimenting, pay attention with all the senses – be present, be mindful.  Poaching an egg typically involves sight, touch and a sense of time.  The senses of smell and sound don’t typically come into play.  I could’ve ignored what I was smelling, but I didn’t.

I took a spoon and tasted it.

I almost threw out the cooking water, but I was curious.  I knew that if something smells good it usually tastes good.

Don’t ignore your curiosity – Follow through on it!  You will be rewarded as I was.

hmmmm…not bad…

Refine what you discovered.  Experiment with the results of your experiment.  Understand its limits.  Explore the potential of your new discovery!

Wow! REALLY good.

That’s great, but what’s the next step?

Record the discovery.  Understand its import.  Continue to build upon the discovery.

But don’t just sit on it.

See what others have done. Check if the idea is worth protecting.  Compare and continue to build upon the concept.

So there you have it.  Next time you’re experimenting or testing a prototype, don’t just rigidly perform and interpret an experiment.

Engage all the senses in the experiment. 

Be present to everything, even your feelings and how you’re responding to what you’re experiencing.  Yes,  “Why?” is an important question to ask.

What’s better when you’ve discovered something,  is to ask yourself if what you’re experiencing has the potential to be good or bad.  Don’t assume you know the answer! Be brutally honest with yourself, and if you don’t know if something is good or bad, find a way to quickly perform a test to find the answer.

You’ll be rewarded 🙂







Posted in creativity, culture of innovation, Design, Food, idea generation, innovation, observation | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

What are You Seeing when You’re Listening? – Don’t Ignore this Key to Innovation

Posted by Plish on January 15, 2018

To observations which ourselves we make, we grow more partial for th’ observer’s sake. (Alexander Pope)

I really like the book, Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers .   It’s chock full of insights and I like just picking a random page and reading.  But there’s a problem with it  – actually there’s a problem with all books that give the ‘secrets behind success’.

One can only see what one observes, and one observes only things which are already in the mind. (Alphonse Bertillon)

If you ask people, “what are you doing there?”, they will tell you what it is they think they’re doing.  The problem is that it may, or may not, be what they’re actually doing.

So is the information contained in books like Tools of Titans wrong?

No, not at all.  But it very well may be incomplete, or worse, inaccurate.  Very often people say what it is that they remember what they’re doing.  They share what they think is important  – the little things are left out.

Practical observation commonly consists of collecting a few facts and loading them with guesses.(Author unknown)

I was researching a surgical procedure once to determine if there were some improvements that could be made to the devices the doc was using.  He told me what he was doing, before, during and after the procedure.  He answered all of my questions.

However, what was surprising to me is that, while he said there were no problems with the procedure, there was a certain repetitive motion that the doc used.  It wasn’t even a comfortable motion, it was very awkward in fact.

But the doctor never mentioned it and said everything was great!

Developing better and more accurate observational skills is essential for everybody and every profession. Basically, If you can’t observe accurately, you can’t think accurately. (Tiit Raid)

You can observe a lot by just watching. (Yogi Berra)

The key point here is that observation is key to understanding what people are doing.  In fact, observation can be even more powerful that interviews alone.  But, communicating the observations such that they can become building blocks for future projects is a task unto itself.

There is no more difficult art to acquire than the art of observation, and for some men it is quite as difficult to record an observation in brief and plain language. (Sir William Osler)

Observing without communicating this information effectively can  create a situation in which people can reach inaccurate conclusions, and then that could result in a product that doesn’t meet  requirements, or worse: a project gets cancelled because there is no perceived need.

Tools of Titans‘ author, Tim Ferriss,  only shared information that he personally experimented with.  So, in essence, Tools of Titans is a list of things that worked for Tim.   That, incidentally, is a great way to show others what you’ve learned.  Try it and then share!

Everyone is in the best seat. (John Cage)


Everyone thinks that they know what they’re doing.    Especially if it has to do with their own habits/rituals.  That’s not bad, just incomplete.  Sometimes the only access we have to a person’s activities are through what they say they do.  We just have to  trust and try and flesh it out.  With the right questions, sometimes interviewees themselves are surprised to learn what they’re doing.

Tools of Titans does a great job of sharing people’s perceived actions and activities.  It’s a great resource.  But, it’s also a great reminder that as designers, as innovators, while we can learn powerful things from what people say they do, we can learn even more by observing.




Posted in Design, innovation, Innovation Tools, Interviews, observation, problem solving, Service Design | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Want A New Year’s Resolution to Increase Your Innovation Output? – Try This

Posted by Plish on January 2, 2018

Happy New Year!!

Yes, it’s the new year.  A fresh slate.  It’s time for that time honored tradition of making resolutions.

In the world of innovation, there is one resolution you can make that will result in more creative ideas, more really creative innovations.

But before we make that resolution, Let’s Toast with a Heineken!

Heineken’s interactive, Ignite beer bottle is a thing to behold.  It’s not just a passive hunk of glass that holds a liquid.  It’s an active participant, sensing and responding, thus encouraging certain behaviors.

But their work has gone beyond the bottle.  Heineken also uses IoT and AR to increase sales and optimize the sales and distribution process.

The point here is that Heineken is not just seeing themselves as providing beer.  They see themselves as providing an experience.  From the store to the nightclub, they understand that people have lives, they act in certain ways in certain situations. When designing products with this in mind, not only does Heineken see improved sales and distribution, but people enjoy the product more!

What does this have to do with the New Year’s Resolution?

Everything.   Great innovations come from great ideas that dive into the depths of reality.  In Heineken’s case, these innovations come from a shift in perspective.  They look beyond the obvious and embrace the breadth and depth of the product experience.

At the heart of these innovations is a realization that for every action there is not only a reaction but a pre-action, and there are reasons for these actions.

Let’s Buy a Hammer

I want to buy a hammer to drive a nail into a wall.  Chances are, I don’t just want a nail in a wall.  I want to hang a picture.  But, I don’t just want to hang a picture, I want to beautify the room, or bring back a memory.  You see where this is going.

Most hammer manufacturers are making something to drive a nail.  It’s why hammers are virtually unchanged for decades.  They focus on efficient nail driving. But,  the nail is more than that, and in fact, it’s part of the process to create an experience – it’s not just about driving nails. (Other companies have realized that.  Nail-less hangers and non-marring adhesives all get at the ‘hanging’ part of the process.  But they still don’t necessarily see the whole picture. HA! No pun intended 😉 )

Heineken, on the other hand, is exploring the many tentacles of before, after, during and why.  Beer is purchased and consumed in specific contexts.   It’s not just a bottle.  It’s part of an experience.  We share a toast.  We drink in clubs.  We clink bottles.  We savor and feel the beat of the music.  The bottle is in the midst of all this, and it’s a shame that it’s been a passive part of that experience. But, it doesn’t have to be that way.  

The bottle can enrich the experience. 

It can participate in the club environment – it can sense and respond, and because it does, it creates it’s own feedback.  We gain pleasure from experiencing the bottle and its contents, so we encourage and repeat certain behaviors.

At the end of the day though, it’s not about bottles. It’s about innovative products and services that bring exciting and memorable experiences.

So let’s make that Resolution!

I resolve to look for, and design for, the Truth behind the Reality.

whoa…. that’s deep.

Not really.   It’s just a more thorough way of innovating.

Explore context. Explore ritual.  Explore relationships.  Explore meaning.

Personally I like the AEIOU framework:

A: Activities are goal directed sets of actions – things which people want to accomplish

E: Environments include the entire arena where activities take place

I: Interactions are between a person and someone or something else, and are the building blocks of activities

O: Objects are building blocks of the environment, key elements sometimes put to complex or unintended uses, changing their function, meaning and context

U: Users are the consumers, the people providing the behaviors, preferences and needs (Christina Wasson, quoting E-Lab, 1977)

Courtesy of https://www.10000ft.com/design-recipes/aeiou-research-framework

There are other systems like POEMS, POSTA, etc., but the point of them all is to find and design for the truth behind the reality.  Look at the big picture – don’t settle for the obvious!

The Reality: I want drive a nail into a wall

The Truth Behind the Reality: I want to take a step to beautify a room with a picture from a vacation to remind everyone of the great memories there

The Reality: I want to have a cold beer at a night club

The Truth Behind the Reality: I want to have fun!  I want a night of memories, a night of interaction!

The Reality:  A surgeon wants to cut a hole in the skin

The Truth Behind the Reality: A surgeon wants to quickly and easily place a device. The surgeon wants the patient to feel better so that she can go to her grand-daughter’s wedding in a week.

Where do you think the innovations are going to come from?

Designing for “The Reality” or for “The Truth Behind the Reality”?

Sure, innovation can come from just designing for “The Reality”.  In a world where all that is needed are nails driven into a surface, a new design of hammer – a nail gun – will be hailed as an innovation.    But let’s look at the “Truth Behind the Reality”:    How will people with nail guns interact with each other and the nails?  What about being able to use it in cold, or heat, or rain, or underwater?  Are we just putting up boards or building a house that will be a home? What about types of materials being nailed?  Who is buying the nail driver?  Are nail drivers even necessary?

See the difference?  Ideas will start flowing once we look under the surface.

The choice is yours

You can choose to design for “The Reality”.  You can make another hammer, another beer, another beer container.

But understand the “Truth Behind the Reality” and you will design products and services that Ignite experiences.

Make the resolution and stick to it.  

I resolve to look for, and design for, the Truth behind the Reality.

The world will thank you!




Posted in creativity, Design, Disruptive Innovation, innovation, Innovation Tools, observation, problem solving, Research, Service Design, Technology, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Come Hear my Thoughts on the Present and Future of “Sensor Driven Healthcare”

Posted by Plish on October 2, 2017

Hi Everyone!

Just wanted to let you know that I’ll be giving a talk at the Midwest Sensors Conference on Tuesday.  My topic:

2:45pm-3:15pm | Sensor-Driven Healthcare: Innovative Applications Today & Tomorrow

Michael Plishka, President, ZenStorming LLC

The world of medical sensors seems to be transforming the world of medical products on what seems to be a daily basis. Michael Plishka of ZenStorming, will share some of the sensor technologies that he believes are making waves in healthcare. He will also discuss and extend the definition of what ‘sensor technologies’ are and where to find them, opening the door to new business opportunities for medical products and services. Here’s to creative solutions and a better world!

Even if you can’t make it for my talk, the conference runs through Wednesday.


Would love to see you there!!




Posted in Design, Healthcare, innovation, Medical Devices | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Nine Innovation Lessons from the Movie, ‘Baby Driver’

Posted by Plish on July 1, 2017

Saw the movie “Baby Driver” last night.

Great action packed, fun, movie!

There’s one lesson the recurs in the movie:

If you want to avoid getting caught, be willing to drive on surfaces other than the main road.

It’s the same with innovation- to stay ahead of the pack, you need to venture off the main drag.

What are the traits of being on an alternate surface, of being an innovation trailblazer?

  1. The path is not smooth.  In fact, it might be downright bumpy.
  2. You feel like you’re on the verge of being out of control. (But remember, you ARE in control.  You chose this path so you want to be on it!)
  3. You trust your technologies, push them and and get the most out of them, perhaps even use them in unorthodox manners.
  4. You find yourself intensely engaged in the process.  You’re not on automatic pilot – in fact, you CAN’T be or you’ll crash.
  5. You’re learning and getting better all the time.
  6. Your path is unique (Others trying to follow on the main road can’t keep up, and those following you ‘off-road’ have a really hard time because they have to deal with the ‘fallout’ of what you’re doing and they really don’t want to be there – they are there because they think they have to be catch you)
  7. Sometimes you slam on the brakes and make adjustments.  (That’s ok – it might be the best way to stay ahead of the game!)
  8. You get where you’re going.
  9. People say you’re crazy – and/or good.


So ask yourself:

Are you on the road to innovation?






Posted in culture of innovation, Design, Disruptive Innovation, innovation, Service Design, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

When Innovation is Counter-Intuitive: Fighting Fire with Fire

Posted by Plish on March 30, 2017


A beautiful, versatile material, but humans aren’t the only ones who like it.

Bugs like it.

Fungi like it,

Fire destroys it.

So how do we make it more robust?

Typical approaches are to chemically treat the wood.  Soak it, coat it. But, some of those chemicals are downright nasty to humans and nature.  Plus, they often need to be re-applied frequently to keep the wood in its peak resistant form.

Turns out there’s a simpler, more effective way of making wood resistant to fire, and to critters of all sizes.

In Japanese the technique is called Shou-Sugi-Ban.  It’s been practiced there for at least 300 years, probably longer.

In English it’s called: Fire.

Yes, that’s correct.  Burn the wood.  Char it.  The process destroys the cellulose and leaves charred lignin behind which is much harder to ignite. (Ever try starting a fire with cold charred wood?  It’s possible but not easy)

From an innovation standpoint, I love the fact that Shou-Sugi-Ban is so counter-intuitive.

Often when people encounter a weakness in a material or design, the reflexive response is to avoid it.  Design around it.  This innovation hack embraces the weakness and capitalizes on it.

The technique is simple.  Look at the negatives and see if you can control and/or exaggerate them in time or space to create a solution that renders the negatives powerless at a later time or place.  In this case, fire is typically the end of wood.  However, by putting fire at the beginning of the wood treating process, the wood becomes resistant to fire down the line.

Another example from the world of fire?

For years oil rig fires have been extinguished by using explosions, and now a similar technique is being explored to put out wildfires.

Other examples of this contradiction based technique have directly impacted the lives of millions.

Vaccines for one.  By taking a pathogen and exposing the body to it in a controlled manner –  Voila!  Immunity!

There’s also Desensitization.

It’s used to cure people of allergies.  A psychological version of desensitization is used to cure people of phobias.  In both cases, people are exposed to the problem causing agent in a controlled manner.  Like the wood of Shou-Sugi-Ban, they become resistant to the very things that made them miserable.

So, next time you have a product that has an Achilles heel, see if you can use that weakness as a strength by applying the weakness in a preemptive manner.  The results could surprise you.




Posted in Biomimicry, Case Studies, Design, innovation, Innovation Tools, problem solving, Sustainable Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

How to Discover Opportunity in Negativity

Posted by Plish on February 24, 2017

Negativity.  It’s everywhere.

It seems no one can do anything right.  Whether in politics, business or design critiquing, the default reaction seems to be one of negativity.

In some ways people can be excused.  From an evolutionary perspective, seeing the negatives gives an advantage in fight or flight situations.

Reaction 1: That tiger’s going to eat us – RUUUN!!!! (NEGATIVE)

Reaction 2: That tiger is licking its lips no doubt because it had a giant meal and now she’s just resting.  We can walk right by her. (POSITIVE)

The negative clearly has the advantage.

But, we’re not in Fight or Flight most of the time

Modern society has eliminated most acute threats to our existences. But that doesn’t stop us from seeing the negative. The problem is that when everyone is seeing negatives, the positives escape notice.  In fact, when the crowd is seeing negatives, we have a greater tendency to reinforce the negatives present and even find new ones.  Misery not only loves company, it creates it!!

Be a contrarian!

While recently reading “The Art of Contrary Thinking” (by Humphrey B. Neill) i was struck by the following:

“Bring up almost any question – on domestic or foreign affairs – and you will hear voices at once chime in that “it won’t work,” “It can’t be done,” and so on….(Instead,)…If we start asking “what’s right?”about this or that question, we shall find  we are actually changing our whole method of thinking.”***

Changing how we think is not easy to do, but it is fruitful and it can be done.

Example 1: Of mice and men…

in 1979, there was a mouse driven graphical user interface in use at Xerox.  It wasn’t commercialized.  It was clunky, had three buttons, and was hardly ready for prime time.  Steve Jobs saw it, and most importantly, saw the good in it.  He saw past the clunky three button tethered box.  The rest, as they say, is  (Apple) history.

Example 2: All they’re doing is playing games!!

That’s a typical refrain of people when they see young people playing video games and even recording and sharing them on YouTube.  Yet, E-Sports are not just a fringe phenomenon.  They are a multi-multi -million dollar ‘sport’that involve millions of people worldwide (Gaming almost had 100 billion in revenues in 2016!!) .

You can mock it.  You can call it a fad.

Do that and one thing will be guaranteed:

You’ll miss out.

So Design for the good!

Before you can do that, you need to first see the good. You need to not agree with crowds.who will be pointing out the zillion things wrong.  You need to have enough character and confidence to look deep, see the good, and stand by the good in a product, service,  technology or cultural phenomenon.

Ask yourself: What’s good about ……?

Build upon that good thing! Use it as a spring board.  Innovate around it!

Opportunities will present themselves where others just see… well actually, they won’t see anything.  They’ll be complaining about this or that.

You, as a contrary thinker, will be making better products, and making the world a better place!


*** – This book was written in the 1950’s and he was bemoaning the negativity pervasive in discourse!!!


Posted in Design, Entrepreneurship 2.0, innovation, Innovation Tools, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Secret Behind The Invention of Spanx

Posted by Plish on February 9, 2017

When most people think about Spanx and how they were invented, people often mention Inventor Sara Blakely cutting the feet off of her pantyhose to create the first prototype.

But the secret wasn’t in the prototype per se

It was in the metaphor that drove her to cut the feet of those hose.

—“Shapewear is the canvas and the clothes are the art.” –Sara Blakely

While the metaphor may not have been explicitly articulated at the time, it was clearly already active in her mind.

Like an unsmoothed piece of gessoed canvas on which no amount of paint could hide the imperfections, the clothes women wore showed what was beneath.  Blakely didn’t like the fact that underwear, and how it assaulted a woman’s body, was able to be seen through clothes.  Every ripple, every bulge, insidiously showed itself.   The masterpiece of beauty was betrayed by faulty ‘canvas.’

That first prototype solved the problem: The shapewear became a flawless canvas enabling a work of art to be ‘painted’ upon it.  The masterpiece could shine through un-detracted by the canvas beneath.  A new problem revealed itself: The legs of the cut hose kept rolling up.   But that didn’t detract from the fact that a solution had been found.  From that point on, the process of refining the product was geared towards comfort, manufacturability and scalability.

The Metaphor Stayed Active

As a guest on James Altucher’s Podcast recently, Blakely proclaimed: “Everything is a Canvas!” (A perspective that also drove her creation of The Belly Art Project.)    This metaphor has continued to drive the development of Spanx product lines.  It’s powerful because it acknowledges the potential works of art that are enabled through their products.  Spanx make people feel good about being walking art.

Feel The Metaphor

When solving problems, tune in to the emotions you’re feeling.  You may not be able to articulate what you’re feeling, but acknowledge it nonetheless.  If you can articulate them, great! Regardless, start acting on them.  Humans make sense of the world through metaphor.  Start acting on those feelings and see if a metaphor is revealed and if it is resolved.  Some kinks might still need to be worked out, but you’ll recognize the solution when it’s present.

“Good Design is Obvious.  Great Design is Transparent.” – Joe Soprano

Spanx are transparent, just as a smooth canvas should be.   The greatness is apparent to women and men worldwide.







Posted in Design, Fashion, innovation, invention, problem solving | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Three Words That Will Alert You To Opportunities for Innovation and Growth

Posted by Plish on January 20, 2017

“I don’t understand how anyone could vote for Donald Trump.”
“I don’t understand how anyone could vote for Hillary Clinton.”
“I don’t understand how anyone can play Pokémon for that long”
“I don’t understand why anyone would want to buy an iPad when an Android works just as well”
“How can anyone listen to {Taylor Swift, Kanye West, etc….}?”  (This is a veiled way to say “I don’t understand.”)
I Don’t Understand…


Those three words represent a disconnect from people and objects. They represent a lack of understanding of how people are being served, or how their desires are (or aren’t) being met. They point to how we don’t understand how people’s aspirations may be enabled and thus they point to how we don’t understand the opportunities present.

But perhaps more importantly, those three words highlight that we haven’t taken the time to understand people. What does that say about us? We like to think of ourselves as well informed, as perhaps at The Cutting Edge, as caring human beings.  Yet, we are confronted with seemingly inexplicable phenomena where millions of people are fans of a product, service, or person.

There’s a lesson here regardless of what products we like, or what people we want for president, or what games we play. We need to be tuned in to what other people want. If we really want to build better communities, a better world, we need to understand each other. We need to know where people are coming from. We need to know what types of things are passionately driving people in their day-to-day lives.

Niches of (Not) Understanding

Those words, “I don’t understand…” alert us to niches.  When designing products and services, we must play in those niches . And as we’ve seen, those niches can be comprised of millions and millions of people.

Pay Attention

Pay attention to what people do. Pay attention to what people say. Understand what excites people. What makes people happy? What do people feel that they will lose if they don’t have something? What will people feel they will gain if they do have something or if they don’t?

Today the 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump, is being sworn in. His election highlights the fact that there are millions upon millions of people in this country who don’t understand how somebody could vote for somebody else. That means that there are millions of people that’s simply don’t understand their fellow Americans people that’s too high a number.  If we’re designing a better country, (and that’s something that everyone seemingly wants), we need to rise above caricatures and start understanding each other’s motivations and pains.  We need to really understand and not lump everyone into neat little political, racial, socio-economic, etc. silos of categorization.


Thinking we understand is perhaps even worse than not understanding at all. When we misunderstand, we risk going down the unfruitful paths.  We risk spending money, time and energy on things that won’t resonate and hence won’t succeed.    Can anyone say “Edsel“?

Listen For Those Three Words

“I don’t understand”  Use those words as a springboard to exploring the relationships, needs, and desires, of people. Those words are the key to new products, services, and even in the bigger picture, a better world.  At at the end of the day, the best thing we can say is, “I understand why…” , or “I understand how…”

Once we understand, we grow.  When we’ve grown, we can get to work designing  solutions:  better products, better services, a better world.


Posted in culture of innovation, Design, innovation, observation, Politics, problem solving, Service Design, Social Innovation, The Future | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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