Interpreting Needs & Wants
What is interpretation?
The key to innovation is a new idea, or a new use of an old idea, to improve a product, process or system. An idea might just be a word, a spark or a simple suggestion that turns into something great. A good idea is one that is wanted by the end user. No matter how creative, innovative or interesting an idea is, it is not a good idea unless it meets or creates a need.
To interpret accurately, therefore, is a very important skill in innovation. It is the capacity to identify a need or an opportunity.
Sources for new ideas
(1) A need
Sometimes we can see a problem in our environment or something that needs to be fixed. No one has asked us ((to do this. For example, you might see that mothers have difficulties to carry their baby and an umbrella at the same time. They would like a new type of umbrella. Or it is difficult for old people to use their walking stick down the ramps. They would like a new type of walking stick. These are needs.
(2) An opportunity
Sometimes we look at our work environment and see the possibility of producing something completely new or doing something in a new way. For example, you might look at your pen and eraser and think of a new type of pen with erasable ink. This is an opportunity.
Identifying needs and opportunities
The Interpret skill can be developed by encouraging learners to use a range of methods to discover information themselves. These could include:
(a) conducting surveys
(b) observing and questioning to identify problems and constraints
(c) challenging assumptions
An innovation idea survey is one of the best ways to collect ideas for developing an innovation. Ask your students to conduct a survey in the college, their locality or any other place they deem it appropriate. Tell them to interview people that they think of to find out what problems need solutions. What kind of innovation tool, game, device or idea would be helpful at home, work, school or during leisure time?
One of the simplest ways to interpret needs and opportunities is the direct observation method. Some people are naturally more observant than others, but we can all train ourselves to become more observant. It involves really noticing things, how they are done and why they are done in a particular way. Students can use the following techniques to train themselves to become more observant.
Taking the time to really see something rather than just look at it and see what they expect to see- the fresh eye perspective
- Focusing on one part of a piece of work and then working systematically through the whole picture
- Drawing what they see in detail and to scale
- Using a checklist to guide their observation
- Using all their senses to observe
(c) Challenging assumptions
Challenging assumptions is one of the most important ways in which students can find opportunities for innovation. There are many strategies students can use to help them challenge assumptions about the environment.
1. Question the way things are. For example: Why do tables have legs?
2. Ask ‘What if’ questions. For example: Why do credit cards have a magnetic stripe down one side? What if the stripe was down the middle?
3. Try experimenting with ideas such as reversing the norm. For example: What if we worked at night instead of during the day?
The ideas students come up with may not all be useful, but the process of challenging assumptions will help release creativity and enable them to look at the world around you with fresh eyes. This is one source of new ideas.