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March 10th, 2021
Supply and demand is the golden equation that underpins all of commerce and economics. Right? If so, then how exactly does innovation fit into this funny little equation? Because, with innovation there’s an inherent property that is not exactly available for our economics equation. The point is best illuminated by a question:
How can there be demand for something that doesn’t exist?
Or better yet,
How can someone demand something they don’t even know they want?
The first question is more manageable. An obvious problem begs of a solution, and even if a solution isn’t currently imaginable, the demand is still real, hence the pressure on supply to manifest the solution and put it into practice. But what about things that don’t necessarily solve an obvious problem but turn out to be incredibly desirable? How can you want something you can’t even imagine yet? And for which solves no current and obvious problem?
Here, the world of business enters the holy sanctum of success: the new and the innovative. And one way to talk about this unknown space is with a surprise party.
What exactly does it take to plan the perfect surprise for a friend or a loved one? Certainly we can do the token party or get together, which just really involves coordinating a bunch of people for a particular time, a little secrecy and of course the food, music and decorations. But what does it take to make it really special?
First and foremost, you have to know the person really well. Only then is it possible to imagine something that might delight them in a singular way. It’s a bit like an inside joke: it’s unique and situational, it’s tailored specifically for the person involved. To do this sort of thing really well requires a combination of two things: creativity, and empathy.
It may not seem obvious but creativity and empathy become superpowers if well combined in the business world - it’s at the core of much innovation. The aspect of empathy enables a designer to imagine how a total stranger might perceive and interact with the new product being developed. So many products induce only aggravation and confusion, and this is clearly a result of the fact that such a product was designed by someone who assumed the entire world would perceive the product in the same way they do… which is obviously a magnificent mistake.
Any product or service, when being designed can benefit immensely from exercising the empathetic power of imagining what it would be like as a total stranger to come across this product or service. Would it be confusing and incomprehensible, or would it be a delight? Would it be intuitive and fun?
Notice how money hasn’t entered this discussion of commerce and innovation at all. Money, in this case, is simply the byproduct of a job well done, an indication that the product or service has enough of the required components, whether that be simple utility or also creativity and the hospitable and intuitive quality of empathy.
While money is often decried as the root of all evil, perhaps this perspective on the core of commerce can peel back that ugly veneer to reveal a world that is grinding away to become more cooperative as opposed to a mad game of king of the hill. While innovators can amass unreal fortunes for their creations, none of this would be possible without the cumulative involvement of all playing this great came we call civilization.