Social Driven Design Innovation—It’s What You Need


Through the wonders of binge watching old TV shows on Netflix, my 12-year-old daughter has recently discovered the magic of the Rod Serling’s classic TV show, The Twilight Zone.

For the uninitiated, and any millennials reading this, the Twilight Zone is a legendary American television series created by Rod Serling, which featured stories containing drama, psychological thriller, fantasy, science fiction, suspense, and horror. The show ran from 1959 to 1964. Oftentimes, the shows concluded with a supernatural or unexpected twist.

I remember watching reruns as a kid and I loved the show. Therefore, the development that my daughter was now into The Twilight Zone, was received with great excitement by me.

“Dad,” she said, excitedly. “I watched this black and white show – and it was actually good! It was called The Twilight Zone.”

I was humored, but when she launched into a full blown impersonation of Rod Serling’s famous introduction, she got my undivided attention.

“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call ‘The Twilight Zone’.”

She told me about one episode in particular, where a man could predict the future, and give people, “What they need.” I was so intrigued that I sat down and watched the episode with her.

The episode, “What You Need”, has an old man, Peddot, peddling trinkets in a bar. He sells gum, shoelaces, and other penny products (“matchsticks, perhaps?”). People at the bar politely buy a thing or two from this gentle old harmless peddler. However, the old man sometimes gets a very bizarre, faraway, dreamy look in his eyes. At such points, he will just hand some odd item to somebody, and then tell them that “It’s what you need.”

In one instance, he sold matchsticks to a down-on-his-luck, ex-baseball player, only to then to hand him a bus ticket to Scranton, Pennsylvania. The man said, “What is this?” Old man Peddot replied, “It’s what you need.” The man looked at him oddly, while putting the ticket into his pocket.

Minutes later the phone rings (remember phone booths at the bar?). It is a call for the ex-ballplayer who just received the bus ticket as a gift. It turns out the man got a job offer to coach a minor league baseball team. Where is the job? You guessed it: Scranton, Pennsylvania.

The act repeats itself. Another time finds old man Peddot schelpping more matchsticks, gum and other penny products (“shoelaces, perhaps?”). Only this this time he hands a guy a pair of scissors. “What’s this for?”, the recipient asks, perplexed. “It’s what you need,” answers the old man, blankly.

Later in the episode the man who received the scissors is inside an elevator. The elevator is the old kind where an iron gate closes from top to bottom. As the elevator begins to make its ascent, this man’s tie, which was draped over his shoulder, is snagged by the gate. As a result, the man begins to strangle on his taut tie. Suddenly, he remembers the scissors! Frantically, he cuts himself loose – remembering the old man that strangely gave him the scissors, and recalling his melancholic words, “It’s what you need.”

I couldn’t help but think that the strange ability of this old man to see exactly what people need – is kind of what product innovation is all about, especially the kind of product innovation we call Social Driven Design Innovation.

Social Driven Design Innovation is much like the old man’s ability to give people, “What they need.” It is about providing customers with what they need when they don’t know they need it. This is what discovering a consumer’s unarticulated needs is all about.

Similarly, many consumers don’t know what they need. Instead, consumers do things to meet their unarticulated needs. What they do to satisfy their unarticulated needs is called a compensating behavior. This old man had a special gift to see into the future and know what his customers unarticulated needs were. He then gave them a product that satisfied that unarticulated need.

Social Driven Design Innovation essentially does the same thing although it is duly noted it accomplishes this without paranormal abilities. Rather, it leverages scientific approaches, big data tools, machine learning, and distributed expertise, to discover what it is that consumers truly need. Through this scientific and tools-driven process, the unarticulated needs of consumers are revealed – things consumers need but don’t know to ask for.

Identifying unarticulated needs is a critical step towards discovering a company’s next great product innovation. Companies that can understand their customers unarticulated needs can rapidly innovate new products to meet their needs. As a result, when a delighted customer asks, “What is this new product?”, that company can confidently answer, much like old man Peddot, “It’s what you need.”

On that note, and with all apologies to Rod Serling…

“There is a fifth market beyond that which is known to man. It is a market as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between products that are in the light and the ones that disappear into shadow, between technology and innovation, and it lies between the pit of a consumers compensating behavior and the summit of his unarticulated needs. This is the dimension of innovation. It is an area which we call ‘The Social Driven Design Innovation Zone’.”

Where To Discover More About What You Need?