Unmet Need

"People don't want quarter-inch drills.
They want quarter-inch holes."
Professor Theodore Levitt, Harvard Business School
Tool Step

Role of this tool

Successful innovations satisfy a need – a real and specific user need that is currently not met. This tool helps to define an unmet need that will naturally give rise to relevant and distinctive ideas or innovations.

Let’s not skimp on this stage; it’s worth the time. As Albert Einstein said: “If I had one hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution”.

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How do we use it?

We can use this tool alone or in a workshop, having analysed any research or insights we have on the issue.

1. Whose unmet need is it?

We gather as much information about the user as we can, using the Personas tool if needed. What motivates them? What makes them distinctive? What keeps them awake at night? Draw or find a picture of a user and give him or her a name.

2. What is their unmet need?

We define this, being as specific as possible and trying to get to the root of the problem. Are your unmet needs new, thought provoking, unambiguous and written in plain language? One technique for defining a crisp unmet need is to ask ‘why’ several times until we discover the root cause.

3. How is this unmet need currently overcome?

What workarounds currently exist for this unmet need? Workarounds are ways in which users get around a problem themselves. They give us clues about how our innovation will have to work. If users don’t have their own solution, what are they forced to do as an alternative? Or do they do nothing?

4. Why has this unmet need not been satisfied?

Why haven’t we (or our competitors) created an innovation that caters for this need? For example is there a lack of technology or are solutions currently too expensive? Is it a new need?

5. Why is it important to meet it?

State our argument about why this unmet need is the most important one amongst others we have considered. It is important to try to quantify the importance of this unmet need to us, our partners, our customers or the market in general. So, is this a £10m annual revenue opportunity? Will it open up new markets? Might it transform our brand?


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Worked Example

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