Knowing the question to ask.

Most companies acknowledge a need for market knowledge and try to automate the process of intelligence gathering. They digest as much data existing internally, via clients and suppliers, and on the internet in the faint hope that new opportunities will become self-evident.

On the surface, at least, these efforts make intuitive sense. The Internet is an ongoing conversation, it represents a living and growing memory of the human condition. We record lives, research new frontiers, build businesses, watch children grow….innovate, evolve and die..on the Internet.

If it were possible to watch, listen, and learn from all this activity; to follow the changes in behaviour, and relationships; then companies might be able to pinpoint shifting market landscapes, product trends and disruptive change before it’s too late. However, sifting through the mountains of raw data to find something that you don’t even know you are looking for is virtually impossible….or is it?

Knowing the question to ask

The typical search engine concept, knowledge discovery method, that Google and the rest promote, assumes that you have some idea of what to look for, “If you know the question, we can help you find profound answers.”  This can be very effective when analyzing existing markets, evolving products or understanding consumer dynamics, but is virtually useless in discovering innovation.

Innovation is born in chaos…among interactions between seemingly unrelated resources …that unify and gain momentum before we are even aware of their existence.  Innovation comes from industries outside our own that find a ready market within our sector among marginalized clients.

So how can we know the question if we don’t even know something new exists; if it is not in our realm of interest or industry; or if it is something we have already overlooked?

Originally published Aug 2002. Copyright Mark Abouzeid, all rights reserved.