How to Predict Future Innovation

December 11, 2006 · Posted in innovation, prediction 

When I first started writing this I titled it “How to Predict Future Inventions.” I changed that because inventions don’t really change the world. People have invented thousands of silly things that didn’t and shouldn’t have caught on. Innovation is more than invention. Innovation is satisfying a need or want. Innovation has a human element and the engineering element.

To predict future innovations first figure out what people will want then design ways to satisfy those needs and desires. I hear you saying, “Well, duh! We already do marketing research and have lots of engineers & designers working on new products.”

Notice I didn’t say what people currently want. In the past it might have been good enough to supply current demand but everything is moving so quickly today that by the time you deliver on current demands someone else will have likely already done it and the need is satisfied or the market is so changed that your product has a hard time getting traction.

You might also say, “If I could predict a future innovation I would patent it and be rich.” Well, in future articles I’ll explain why patents often aren’t the correct approach; but, for now, would you like me to give you a patentable future innovation?

People always want more, faster and with less hassle. Until they have the ultimate, their desires steadily progress to the next level of more. If you want to predict future innovations first describe the ultimate.

Since iPods are popular these days and seem to be a big innovation I’ll give you the ultimate innovation on the iPod. First what is an iPod? It’s a way to listen to music. There is nothing new about listening to music. People have been listening to music since the beginning of time. What is the ultimate in listening to music?

The ultimate of anything is,

  • What I want
  • When I want
  • How I want
  • Where I want
  • Who I want it with, for, or from.

Anything that matches all 5 ultimate desires for a particular want, such as listening to music, is the direction all future innovations for that product will head. So that means we can predict the final innovation. Predicting an innovation between now and the then is just a matter of applying current technology to better satisfy one of the 5 ultimate desires.

Are you starting to see how predicting future innovation is possible? Let’s look at the example of listening to music to help bring it into focus and to reveal that patentable future innovation.

When people first listened to music it was someone singing a song. How well does that match the 5 ultimate wants?

What I want: Limited to the songs the musician & singer knows. Limited to sounds a voice can make.

When I want: Limited by when the singer will sing.

How I want: The singer decides how fast, the rhythm, how loud, the tone and every other aspect. On the positive side you can ask the singer to do it differently because you are there to interact with the singer.

Where I want: Limited by where the singer is.

Who I want it with, for, or from: One singer can’t be heard by a large crowd. Can’t share or listen with a friend who is far away.

Anything that improves upon any of the short comings is a potential innovation. And oddly enough listening to music has already gone through several cycles of improvements on each. The iPod plays music where you want. In the past music boxes played music where you wanted, and so did home radios followed by personal radios, then tape players and CD players. Each innovation was improvement of “where I want”.

What I want was improved through sheet music, then by recordings, and now digital downloads with access to hundreds of thousands of songs improves the “what I want.”

So what about the patentable idea I promised? Lets push each of the 5 ultimate wants to the max.

What I want: I want to listen to any song by any artist, not just their songs but any artist singing any song. I want to be introduced to music I might like when I might like it.

When I want: I want to have access to the music I want any time I want, without waiting. iPod almost does this but misses one step.

How I want: I want to choose which instruments play each part, I want to choose the pitch so I can sing along, I want to change the speed, I want the same richness of tone as I get if the performer was right there with me.

Where I want: I want to listen any place, including while in the shower, safely while driving, thousands of miles from civilization.

Who I want: I want to be able to listen to music with my friends no matter where each of us is. I want to share with other people at times convenient to everyone.

OK, do you get the idea? That is a big list of features. The cool thing is much of that is possible today. Let me propose a couple ways to do it. This is where Predictive Innovation really shows its power.

How can you have any song any time any where? Put all the music on a wireless network that can stream to your device. This can be done with land based wireless similar to cell phones and WiFi hot spots or from satellite.

And safely listen while driving? Use noise canceling technology plus sensors to automatically lower the volume or pause the music when there is something you need to pay attention to.

Choose the voice, tone, instrumentation, pitch, and rhythm? Use MIDI and a polyphonic synthesizer. Performers already do this when composing. Instead of mixing the songs down to audio leave them in the master format and allow listeners to mix the songs to their personal tastes. This also cuts down on the bandwidth needed by the network sending you all this music because it is a form of lossless compression.

I want to listen with my friends. A global wireless network definitely does that. And if you use something like e-mail you can share with friends when they are free. What about getting the music I want without searching? Build a profile of music you like and things other people like who share your likes and make suggestions from their likes. Amazon and do this already. Monitor your heart rate, blood pressure, time of day or other biofeedback to make selections or even dynamically adjust the music to match your moods.

Listen in the shower? Same sound quality as in person? Use wireless ear buds similar to hearing aids. Or, skip your ear drums and transmit the sound through your skin to the nerves inside your ear. This would even allow some deaf people to hear again. It would also reduce hearing loss.

Or why not skip all of that and do what people really want when they listen to music. Stimulate a feeling or mood directly. But that is another innovation and something covered in another part of Predictive Innovation.

Action Items

  • Make a list of the 5 ultimate wants for your product, or one you use.
  • List a few steps between the current and ultimate for one of the wants of your product.

Seeing customers’ emerging desires is only one of the 7 parts of a complete innovation system. Click here to get a FREE copy of What Makes an Innovation System Complete.