In the seminal book “The Four Steps to the Epiphany”, Steve Blank introduces the concept of “customer development” – get out of the building and interview customers. While this is not a new concept – product people with user-centered design training have always done this – this is a huge development in startup-land, where technology used to run amuck.
Challenges with sample size
There is one small problem with customer development. It relies on qualitative research techniques like detailed interviews and observation, which are time consuming and costly. Additionally, these techniques involve deep interactions with a few individuals, and you always run the risk of talking to the wrong people about the wrong problems.
How do you know whether you can trust your results? One way is to increase sample size – but given each interaction can take a couple of hours all-in, trying to get to 100 conversations quickly becomes daunting.
If there ever was a problem that’s hard to solve, it’s climate change. It’s a complex challenge requiring more expertise than any one person can possess—in-depth knowledge of the physics of the upper atmosphere, a firm grasp on the economics of technological innovation, and a thorough understanding of the psychology of human behavior change. What’s more, top-down approaches that have been tried for decades—like efforts to pass national legislation and to negotiate international agreements—while important, haven’t yet produced the kind of change scientists say is needed to avert climate change’s potential consequences.
But there’s at least one reason for optimism. We now have a new—and potentially more effective—way of solving complex global challenges: online crowdsourcing.
Events in Egypt offer a real time lesson in the continued trend of the global decline of the single leader and the emerging power of collective action taken in support of freedom.
The convergence of technology with political and economic factors has generated a formidable opposition with distributed leadership. Opponents of the Mubarak regime used Facebook and Twitter to share and vent their frustrations with oppressive rule and increasingly desperate economic condition – resulting in the initial “day of rage” on January 25.
Yet, the organization and collective action of hundreds of thousands of Egyptians continued even after the government shut down the Internet. Crowds still appeared, information was shared, food and medical care were provided and attempts at violent intimidation were resisted.
All this was accomplished without a single, unifying face for the opposition. This is not Iran in 1979, with the Ayatollah Khomeini returning to lead the overthrow of the Shah. There is no Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Prize winner kept under house arrest in Burma for the “crime” of winning an election. Read More »
Many people would say that one of the most important problems facing humanity today is global climate change. It is affected by all of our actions, and it will potentially affect every one of us. But even though many scientists, journalists, politicians, businesses, and consumers are talking about this problem, we aren’t even close to solving it.
Fortunately, at the same time that we have this potentially huge global problem, we also have the possibility of using a new kind of global problem solving approach. As examples like Wikipedia and Linux show, it’s now possible to harness the collective intelligence of thousands of people around the world to work closely together at a scale that was never possible before in human history.
In the Climate CoLab project, we’re applying this approach to climate change. An online community of people from all over the world is already creating, analyzing, and discussing detailed proposals for how to address global climate change. For instance, last fall we had a global competition for proposals addressing the question: What international climate agreements should the world community make? Read More »