Thinking of starting your own business? Launching a new service or product? Become an anthropologist and start observing people using existing products and services. By single virtue of watching people do things, you are empowered to discover unmet needs – your business opportunities.
The so-called “unmet needs” exist in two variations: expressed and silent. The former are easy to spot as users of a product under surveillance would state their issues and difficulties. The latter are more challenging to discover: users cannot articulate those. This is where you start observing and journalizing your “show”. And it goes without saying that you must observe the user in their normal state of consumption. Perhaps, it is worthwhile not to mention what you are doing and play a secret agent role for a while. Then, try to practice a curious child role, when you constantly ask “Why?” and “Show Me How You Do It Again”.
Keeping a list of ideas that enter your mind at various points during the day and night is also a valuable practice. This list can cover challenging, time-consuming or pleasant experiences you notice about your users under the observation. Ultimately, your new product or service will either solve some pain or deliver a pleasant experience to make it in the market. Think about ways of completely eliminating the pain and extending the pleasure. Write down the words your users utter at moments of consumption and times it takes to fulfill the need or want.
Expanding your vision beyond the current users can bear fruits to new applications of the existing product or service or new markets. Journalize the alternative use (not the primary function) of the product or service and you will have another source of ideas for business opportunities.
Finally, while you are immersing yourself into this ongoing observing activity, spice it up with creative getaways, fun experiences and “timed reflection sessions”. Focus on keeping your thought process on the observed event and become a user for a while. Or try to think about it while you are doing something exciting that drives your emotions to blend with the thoughts. Remind yourself to escape into “thinking about this point” sessions when you are “stuck” on a plane or driving long distance. And, when you find the unmet need, start writing down, yes “writing down” the next steps to make it happen.
P.S. Added 3 days later: A good article from Entrepreneour.com provides a few ideas on everlasting businesses that “market to the 7 deadly sins“. Those businesses lust no matter what (economy, technology, evolution): the skills for having power over people, aphrodisiac food, wine, connoisseur experiences, and on-demand personal assistant to pick up/clean up your slack! Dah!