What do we really need?
Did you ever think about how part of the solutions we come up with to our daily (or more serious) problems are based on what we already know? Say we need light to read, we automatically head for a shop to buy a light bulb. Or say we need for people to get smoothly from A to B, there is a tendency to add asphalt to the infrastructure. Encouraging cars which we then buy.
But what do we really need? In order to find the most appropriate solutions, rather than building on the existing ones, we first need to get the question right. We need light, not light bulbs (they will do the job of course, but there may be other ways that work as well). And we need for people to be able to connect from A to B, not by default to be able to go by car. As a matter of fact, cars stay parked 95% of the time. And building more roads, adding asphalt to the landscape, has not proven to be the solution to traffic jams, rather an encouragement to use more cars, adding to the already busy roads which then once again become insufficient.
The interesting part in focusing on the actual needs, on “getting the question right” as I tend to think of it, is that the answer you come up with may be totally unexpected. In the best case, you may even find that the answer you are looking for excludes the most obvious solution altogether.
Some inspiring examples:
In the case of lighting, Philips is a well-known example when it comes to offering not the product (light bulbs), but the service (light). A business model referred to as Product as a Service (PaaS). Needless to say the emphasis then no longer lies on selling as many products as possible, but rather the opposite: achieving the same level of light with as little input as possible. Also over time, meaning products are made to last rather than to be replaced, as Philips remains the owner. PaaS is increasingly gaining in popularity, by the way, so while writing about Philips here, you can look up several other examples.
When it comes to transport and cars there are several initiatives popping up, from sharing to renting. You can pay per use if you live in a city with a subscription service and cars parked in specific places, or you can rent from private people increasing their car’s hours on the road by renting it out.
The favourite: No product!
These examples show an interesting and important development as we do need to change our consumption patterns, we all know that. But to me, the most interesting solutions in “getting the question right” and identifying the real need, is that of skipping the product altogether.
If we add this to the question of connecting people from A to B, transport may be left out of the equation if we instead have them connect online (I know, it’s not the same, but just think about all the online work we’ve done in the past year. A lot is possible). And many cities provide bikes as options for getting around – no car at all but still does the job! And great to combine with public transport.
And returning to the question of light, perhaps this can be taken further than PaaS? Indeed, during day light, what if we could make the most use of the natural light already available? This is what sun tunnels do, they literally let daylight inside by channeling it through a tube, enhancing it through reflection and bringing it to any dark corner of the house you choose. Talk about letting the sunshine in 😉
In a next step, perhaps we can manage to save the sun’s light for darker hours. After all, the sun produces more than enough energy for everyone on our planet: enough for a whole year every hour! Just up to us to figure out how to best make use of it…
And one more example where a product is no longer needed. You know those fresh herbs you can buy in a pot in supermarkets? Last time I picked one up, I thought something had gone wrong in the production process as the pot was missing. Only it was not a mistake: the pot had been taken out of the equation. And it worked, so one more example of how we can do without a product that has always been there out of habit, rather than out of necessity.
Who’s up for the challenge to come up with more products we can get rid of?
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