The pace of technology and the amount of data generated is changing at rates that are impossible to fathom. Have you ever watched Google Search Statistics to see the number of searches every second? It is truly mind boggling. Technology amplifies our needs and it goes viral when it addresses an unmet or blocked need or desire. The way Facebook took off and gained 500 million users in less than five years is just one example of what can happen when an unmet need to share and connect is met in a new way. [Source: Number of active users at Facebook over the years]
While constant technological change is inevitable, human nature doesn't really change that much over time. We still have the same basic needs, as expressed in Maslow's hierarchy of needs: Physiological needs of food, water, sleep; Safety needs of shelter and security; Social needs that address a sense of love and belonging; Esteem needs for a sense of personal worth, self-respect and respect from others; and Self-Actualization needs for purpose, personal growth, and self-fulfillment.
Organizations that understand and leverage technology to serve peoples basic needs in innovative, relevant ways, are the companies who will thrive in the digital transformation age where customer expectations are more demanding and complex.
What does it look like to take care of basic needs in the age of the digitally empowered customer? Here are a few examples that illustrate how companies are creating products and services to meet our basic human needs.
Safe food is one of our first basic needs. To address concerns about food safety in China, Baidu founder and chief, Robin Ki Yanhong, demonstrated smart chopsticks at Baidus 2015 annual developers conference. The smart chopsticks can detect if food is unsafe to eat. The chopsticks were developed to address one of Chinas food scandals, using gutter oil or cheap cooking oil to prepare food. The chopstick turns red if food contains traces of recycled oil.
Sleep is another physiological need. With so many people traveling today, jet lag is a growing problem. A company in Poland designed the Neuroon Intelligent sleep mask to help travelers reduce the effects of jetlag. Biometrics built into the mask record sleep analytics that wearers can use to track sleep patterns. The Jetlag Blocker asks you to enter your destination and then provides light therapy to prepare your body sleep and wake cycle for the new time zone.
There are a number of personal safety products available today to make us more secure in our homes, when were out at night, or backpacking in new, unfamiliar places. Safelet, a fashionable bracelet, sends out alerts, shares location information, and triggers your phone to start recording to let your network of family and friends know you are in danger.
There are also a number of smart detectors that can protect you and your family from carbon monoxide (CO) and smoke. With nearly 3,000 people dying in residential fires per year in the United States alone, it is clear to see why smart smoke detectors like Nest Protect and Kidde PI2010 are flying off the shelves.
We all need to feel that we are loved and that we belong. Social media and new digital technologies have given us a multitude of new ways to connect with each other as we work, play, and live together.
Although nothing compares to in-person interactions, digital technologies like Skype, Facebook, and FaceTime on smartphones have made it possible to stay connected with friends and family no matter where you are.
As we play, new gaming devices allow us to compete with our friends anytime, anywhere. And now, we can even connect and compete on the ski slopes. RideOn augmented reality (AR) ski goggles allow skiers to interact with each other on the slopes. RideOn goggles show you your friends locations, allow you to call them or send pre-set text messages without having to take off your ski gloves or access your phone. The goggles enable you to navigate the slopes by displaying a virtual map that shows the location of lifts, lodges, and other places of interest.
Technology can also help us gain a deeper sense of personal worth and self-respect through apps on our smartphones that act as personal trainers, advisors, friends and assistants. Here are three examples.
There are a number of articles and studies that show how meditation can help create a more positive self-image. Simply Being is a voice-guided meditation app, available on the iOS, Windows, and Android, that allows users to create customized meditation sessions, providing duration, music and sound options. Another app, Happier, helps users gain self-esteem and build deeper relationships with others by curating moments or images of things that make you happy. It also allows you to easily share your happy moments with others. Build Confidence is another app available on iOS and Android that provides coping skills and guided meditation to help build confidence.
These needs explain our drive to make a positive impact in the world, experience new things, find meaning in our lives, and strive for happiness and fulfillment. Characteristics include concern for others and the desire to help solve problems in the external world. In this stage, people are motivated by ethics and a sense of personal responsibility. Here are a few examples of apps that have been developed to address the need to make a difference in the world.
Charity Miles is a free iOS and Android app that enables people to earn corporate sponsorships for charity by walking, running or biking. It is sponsored by organizations like Humana, Johnson & Johnson, Timex Sports and Kenneth Cole. When you download the app, it asks you to select from a list of charities. The charity you select then earns money for every mile you walk, run or bike. Walkers and runners earn 25 cents a mile and bikers earn 10 cents a mile. Charity Miles uses your phone's GPS and accelerometer to measure your distance, giving you the opportunity to contribute to a worthy cause while getting fit at the same time.
Be My Eyes is an app that connects blind people with sighted people from around the world to help them when they need eyes. Users can choose if they want to help or if they need help by the click of a button. Sighted people who install the Be My Eyes app are notified when someone needs help. If you are not available, someone else will step in. When you select the Choose to help option, a live video connection will enable you to see what the blind person needs help with so you can address the challenge they are currently facing.
One Today is another app that makes it easy to donate to a cause you would like to support. The app curates causes, making it easy to find projects you are interested in supporting. You give $1 a day to nonprofits you feel good about. The app allows you to share your activity on social media so your friends can participate too.
What lies ahead?
There is great hope that in the near future we'll have made great strides in conquering poverty and addressing people's needs for food, water, shelter and safety. As more people find time to focus on social, esteem and self-actualization needs, new innovative products and services will be needed to address this growing demand.
Successful companies will ask themselves: How can we serve an unmet human need through our products and services? How can we anticipate problems to be solved by technologies not yet invented? There is a great opportunity to provide innovative solutions to a new generation of self-actualizers. It's an exciting time where we can find new ways to use technology to help us create a world that is more equitable, safe, and fulfilling for everyone.