As a marketer, I’ve been trained to look for unmet needs. And sometimes it’s true that necessity is the mother of invention: a need exists, and a brilliant mind devises a way to address it.
But invention has other mothers as well.
Take, for example, the story of the modern diamond engagement ring. Once upon a time, no one needed a wedding ring, and very few people even needed a wedding. But Pope Innocent III thought social mores might benefit from stronger controls. In 1215, the Church began requiring people to apply for, shall we say, certain permissions. The Pope’s motivation was to shift the status quo – a common driver of innovation.
Marriage became an important social contract. The engagement ring was a simple metal band that said “this one’s taken.” The first-ever faceted diamond engagement ring was presented in 1477 by Archduke Maximillian to Mary of Burgundy, whose father was infatuated with a recently invented technology: gemstone faceting. It was not an unmet need but rather a passion for technology that spawned the tradition of proposing with diamond rings that would last for centuries.
Similarly, much of the innovation we see around us today is born of experimentation by scientists and engineers. As Steve Jobs famously said, “A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.” I am the first to say that listening to customers is key. But knowing when to follow your own heart can lead to powerful, step-change innovation.
From diamonds to iPhones, inspiration is everywhere.