What is both striking and amusing when you spend time in Silicon Valley is that you come across an incredible number of people who sincerely believe that they are going to change the world. It doesn’t seem shocking to them to be saying these things just a few kilometers away from San Francisco, which is probably one of the leading cities for homeless people per square meter. We feel like saying to them: don’t you want to start by  eradicating poverty that exists right on your doorstep? But they will answer you in a flash with an argument so inspiring that you will forget your original question.

That being said, these people’s conviction is sincere! Even though from a distance it sometimes seems as if all of these companies serve their founders more than those who they are supposed to serve (read the excellent book by Michel Bauwens on this subject), the innovations offered can be used to solve many problems, including social ones.

Problem solving was the theme of the fourth day. As such, Pablos Holman, distinguished inventor, hacker, and futurologist by profession, presented an illuminating vision of how this can be done. Lisa Solomon then shared some welcome rules regarding the design of the services or products that are created. Within these presentations there are tips and best practices that make it possible to effectively solve more or less complex problems, innovate, or potentially have an impact on an entire field. Here are some key ideas that I have taken on board.

Planning requires one to be (extremely?) intelligent

By way of illustration, Pablos Holman addressed the problems faced by the textile industry. According to him, the biggest problem is adequately predicting what people will want to buy, in the right quantity, in order to optimize stock management, with the knowledge that there are several long months between the moment of this prediction and the implementation.

This process (which can be applied to many other industries) requires you to be either very smart or a gambler… It amounts to placing a bet on what people will want to buy in two or three seasons’ time. Beyond the intelligence required to make these kinds of predictions, according to him, it’s no longer an effective way of doing things!

This is how he came to create an online clothing store, Bombsheller, which allows consumers to choose which pants they want and receive them just a few hours later. How? He has reconfigured the traditional production line and can print the patterns and design the pants as and when required, sending them immediately afterwards. This reduces a few months to a few hours. No more predictions, no more stock management. Problem solved.

Naturally, when reading this one immediately wonders: “Ok, but will he be able to produce in large enough quantities if his business takes off?” He strongly advises doing things in the following order: first we solve the problem, then we scale up.

He also said that the “how” changes the “what” because he probably wouldn’t have offered these products by following the design method traditionally adopted in the industry. Therefore the question is: in your industry, what process can you drastically change so that the factors of time and predictions no longer come into play?

When we no longer have a real problem, how can we help resolve other people’s?

Using statistics, Pablos Holman then explained that the inhabitants of Silicon Valley didn’t really have problems anymore because they had money, access to medical care, etc. And that their problems mainly consisted of romantic issues or learning how to extend the longevity of their iPhone battery.

The challenge is therefore to put their skills and resources at the service of those who are in real difficulty. When it comes to tackling problems with health or food on other continents, one of the obstacles we encounter is understanding problems that we don’t have, or used to have but no longer have.

How can we comprehend the effort required to procure a little bit of water, when we waste as much as we do? How can we understand the simple act of going to school being a major difficulty when our children try to cut classes so they can follow the latest eSports competition on YouTube?

It is essential – and this is a guy from Silicon Valley saying this – to devote our energy to inventing the tools of tomorrow (of the Internet or Smartphone kind) that will make it possible to eradicate the major problems faced by our planet rather than opportunistically striving to become millionaires with tools that others have come up with (like Facebook or Snapchat).

We must therefore deepen our understanding of the problems that we wish to resolve if we want to have any chance of resolving them. So which problem do you want to tackle and how are you going to go about it?

Design = functional utility + emotional engagement

Lisa Solomon then explains in a very illustrative and informative way, through the story of Airbnb, that design isn’t just the preserve of the fine arts but relates to anyone who designs a product or service intended for use by others.

The challenge is to address two fundamental aspects of that product or service: its functional utility, in other words, the service it is supposed to provide. And the emotional engagement it elicits, namely, what you will feel when you use it. A successful design is therefore a series of choices that enables the expected responses or uses to be obtained.

Like Pablos Holman, Lisa Salomon emphasizes the importance of falling in love with the problem in order to explore the contours, its essence, its roots, and thus making it possible to envisage the appropriate solutions in the second stage. Some of the pointers she gives are as follows:

  1. Think with images and visuals rather than text
  2. Keep it as simple as possible
  3. Describe your product or service using stories rather than functional or technical specifications
  4. Experiment as much as possible
  5. Accept the doubts, gray areas, and uncertainties about the uses

There has been a lot of talk about empathy today, or even compassion. Understanding a problem is interesting. But being sufficiently affected by this problem to want to put one’s energy, time, and talents into finding a solution is much more useful. If we could solve the problem closest to our hearts, would we? Well the good new is that we absolutely can! So what are we waiting for?

To read episods 1, 2, 3 & 4 of Pachulski’s experience at Singularity University:

  1. Is There a Future For Privacy?
  2. Get it Wrong and Laugh it Off!
  3. Don’t Fear the Future, Invent it
  4. If You Want to Innovate, Learn to Forget

[Ebook] Business Transformation: A Considerable Challenge for the CHRO & CIO