A great TechCrunch piece on Why Amazon is eating the world just put a vintage Jeff Bezos quote back into circulation:
I very frequently get the question: “What’s going to change in the next 10 years?” I almost never get the question: “What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?” And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two? – because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. In our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. It’s impossible to imagine a future where a customer comes up and says, “Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher,” [or] “I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.”
I can’t read that without thinking of the trend spotter’s – or the entrepreneur’s – endless quest to see what’s coming next in business and consumerism. Because even when it comes to the question “what’s going to change in the next 10 years?” you generate the most powerful answers by keeping at least one eye on what definitely won’t change.
The Role of Human Nature
New consumer trends are made out of two fundamental building blocks: change and basic human needs. When I say basic human needs, I mean things like security, connection, value, distraction, convenience, fun, and more. These needs are stable decade on decade, century on century. They’re a fundamental part of our nature. They’re never going away.
New consumer trends are made out of two fundamental building blocks: change and basic human needs.
Here’s how new trends, change, and basic needs relate to one another: new trends emerge when some change in the world – a new technology, a new economic moment, a new attitude, whatever – unlocks some new way of serving a basic human need.
Truly new ways to serve a basic human need are rare. Most of the products and services you interacted with today served some basic human need of yours. But they did it in an old way.
The best way to spot the new ways is simply to look at the innovations – new products, services, apps, platforms and more – entering the market now and ask: does this serve a basic human need in a new way?
And to do that, you should get obsessed with basic human needs. With the fundamental aspects of our nature that will never change.
Often when an eye-catching innovation comes along, it’s pretty easy to see the change in the world that is fuelling it. What’s more difficult, but crucial if you’re going to spot meaningful trends, is seeing the basic human need at work.
For example, take Boltt. It’s an Indian startup creating an ecosystem of wearable devices connected by an AI that will crunch the user’s data and offer personalized wellness advice.
Also consider Google Goals, a new feature in Google Calendar that uses AI to intelligently schedule self-improvement activities. Goals can understand your schedule and will help you choose the best times to practice the violin, do your stomach crunches, or read another chapter of Kant. Miss a session and it will intelligently reschedule for you, learning more about you over time.
And then there’s AVA, an app that lets you snap a picture of the food you’re eating so that it can use machine learning to analyze that picture and surface relevant nutritional information.
What’s the recent change fueling all three of these innovations? Easy: it’s AI.
Relating Trends to People
It’s tempting to obsess over the exciting new tech in play, stop there and say: hey everyone, gather round – AI is a big trend for 2017!
But “there will be AI in the months and years ahead” is an observation about the world that, taken alone, is of little use. So what? What does that mean? What will happen? What should I do about it?
If you want to speak the language of trends, I guess you can say that “AI” is a tech trend. But the really powerful trends, the trends that tell you something meaningful about the future and what you should do now, are trends in human behavior and expectation. And to spot those, you need to curb the obsession with new tech and get obsessed with basic human needs.
To spot the powerful emerging trends that will fuel your next innovation, get obsessed with human nature.
In the case of the three examples above, there’s a basic human need linking all three. That is: self-improvement. All three examples put AI to work to serve the eternal human quest to be better – healthier, fitter, more skilled, and so on.
Identify that crucial building block and those three examples allow you to spot a hugely powerful new trend. AI is unlocking a truly new way to serve the age-old human need that is self-improvement. In the years ahead, consumers will remain as obsessed with self-improvement as humans have always been. And they will become ever-more aware of the power of AI to help them. And that means they’ll turn to AI to supercharge their fulfillment of this basic human need in all kinds of ways.
It’s a trend we first spotted a while back; we called it Motivated Mindlessness.
Unlike the tech trend that is “AI,” the consumer or human trend that is Motivated Mindlessness is a hugely powerful one for innovators. Spot it and you can immediately start asking yourself questions that can lead you to your next innovation. What are my customers trying to get better at? Where would they expect us to help them? What would it look like if my brand put AI to work to supercharge their self-improvement?
So remember, these days it’s easy to obsess over new tech. That’s fine, but everyone can see the big tech trends, and taken alone they tell us little. To spot the powerful emerging trends that will fuel your next innovation, get obsessed with human nature. Look for the innovations that are leveraging new tech to serve basic human needs that will never change.
And then get to the really important