While musing about independence on the 4th of July, I found myself inside of an unexpected but provocative question.  Asked then: “What is our modern tyranny -- the ‘arbitrary or unrestrained exercise of power’ from which we seek freedom” today?


After sitting with this question for a couple of weeks, I would like to publicly and humbly suggest that one form of tyranny which controls us against our will is our modern typecasting as "consumers".   When did we the people become so thoroughly downgraded in our primary societal role?  When did we become merely consumers and cease to be at least their more sophisticated and discerning cousins, “customers”?   When did the concept of “market demand” overtake the concept of “human need” -- never mind human responsibility? 


What do humans need, anyway? 


As innovators, the human needs question is an important one.  In in the modern world we often lose sight of human needs, even when they are our own.  So though we have gotten rather good at inventing and supplying human wants (unsatiable and thereby unsustainable),  we may need some help with discovering and addressing human needs.  

Not to worry.  Luckily for enlightened businesses and innovators everywhere, modern psychology offers many maps to the blue ocean of yet unmet human need.  Implied in those maps are a bounty of product and service possibilities, new strategies for serving us in our rightful status as “customers”, perhaps even as early adopters.


Most of us are familiar with Abraham Laslow’s heirarchy of needs, a model which shapes them into a pyramid beginning with the physiological and culminating in self-actualization.  Many complex human needs lie in between, from diverse safety needs (including security of resources and employment, needs we have culturally become a bit reckless with) to esteem needs (including confidence, achievement and respect).  


In my own deep dive into human psychology at ITP in Palo Alto, I came to understand human needs from a complementary lens.   Human activity and human needs span a minimum of six major and essential dimensions.  These dimensions include: the physical, the emotional, the intellectual, story-and-meaning-making, community and creative expression.   I explore these domains of human need further in a brief 2006 essay, Dimensions of Innovation, at times alternatively titled “Dimensions of Value Creation”.


A close look at human needs models will serve to remind us that it is environmental and social value that we seek to buy and sell.   Every human need can be mapped to an environmental or social good.  Without a sustainable supply and reliable access to these, there is no true wealth to be had or to be grown. So at a minimum, we should be creating and growing value to a Triple-Bottom-Line.  Only then will sustainable wealth creation be assured.


So "customers" everywhere -- arise!   Let your true needs be known.  Put on your early adopter hats and let the sustainable innovation begin!


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Sue Lebeck 

  Cool Block Platform Director

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