What do Starbucks, Instagram, GoPro and Facebook have in common? Every one of them was the result not of data-driven analytics or corporate brainstorming sessions but a hunch – the intuitive understanding of a deep, unmet need.
Every day is filled with those opportunities either seized or missed, ours for the taking if only we can learn to listen for them. That’s a skill successful entrepreneurs, creatives and innovators have learned to nurture in themselves, harnessing their curiosity, empathy and imagination, to become experts at noticing and seeking out opportunities to invent, create and serve.
It’s possible to become that kind of person intentionally. You don’t have to start thinking about how you’re going to change the world – begin by thinking about how to change yourself.
Be more curious. You only need to walk down any street to notice that we’ve stopped noticing. If you can make space in your day or on your commute to disconnect from your devices you’ll automatically become more curious and begin to notice things. It’s that easy. See how the girl opposite you on the bus tucks her iPhone under her bra strap so she can eat her croissant and hold her coffee while talking to her boyfriend on the phone. Listen to how parents make bargains with their toddlers when they’re throwing a tantrum. Watch how fleeting people’s attention is as they thumb through their Instagram feeds.
Tap into empathy. The better we are at seeing the world through the eyes of another, the better we become at communicating and connecting with them. The greater our understanding of people’s needs, the more chance we have of fulfilling them. Try looking out for people attempting something and failing. It could be something as simple as using a device, navigating through an airport or paying for parking (how many times have you seen two people peering incredulously at a parking meter, coins poised, wondering what to do next?). Why did he fail? Was it because he wasn’t prepared? Was the product or experience poorly designed? What else did you notice about the situation or the problem?
It’s time to give yourself permission to imagine. Take an object that you love and use every day, something you think works well for you. Spend 10 minutes examining the object, turning it over in your hands. Make a list of the features that you love and why they’re useful to you. Next, think about how you could adapt or improve the item. Imagine what you would change and why.