What do we care about deeply enough to solve, design or build for?

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The fundamental unit of a small business, or startup – and any organisation for that matter – must begin with the individual. For sure, businesses, leaders and government have a clear role in stimulating innovation.

However, the way each of us thinks about the opportunities around us, combined with the skills we have to develop a unique perspective, must be at the heart of Australian small business growth.

As individuals and as small businesses there is a North Star that can guide us. We have to ask ourselves, what do we care about deeply enough to solve, design or build for?

You’re reading this on the train, at a table waiting for someone, or at a desk in an office of one of Australia’s two million small businesses. How can you create change from where you sit?

Taking a snapshot (selfie stick optional)

To me, everyone seems to be ‘never seen it like this before’ busy. 

Over the last few decades, adoption of time-saving devices and services has accelerated. We outsource as much as possible. We buy lunch in the midst of a hectic schedule with no idea of where it came from. We order groceries online to save a trip to the store. We control the house from our mobile phones to save getting up to dim the lights. No need to go buy a movie, stream it through a range of on-demand media options. We Tweet, surf, post, like, swipe and Skype with family we don’t have time to visit.

We’re in a hurry to save as much time as possible, automating everything we can. Played to its logical conclusion, this approach means we could eventually consume more than we build, text more than we touch, and automate more jobs than we create.   

There is another way to be guided, outside of a drive to speed things up. The change required is personal, yet profound.

1. Be curious and open-minded

“Above all watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.” – Roald Dahl

Many of the world’s great breakthroughs began with personal experiences and observations. Every day we pass by a hundred situations, the doors of which could be unlocked by our questions and unique perspectives.

We’re all familiar with GPS mapping. Google and US-based company Skybox are harnessing the concept to catalogue the entire planet, providing an up-to-date image library for applications that include humanitarian aid efforts, agriculture monitoring and infrastructure assessment.

On a smaller scale, after witnessing day-to-day difficulties encountered by the CEO’s mother, design company Sabi re-thought the design of pillboxes and walking sticks.

 

2. Leverage technology

We’re living in the most amazing times.  If your curiosity drives you to create change, there have never been so many tools, opportunities and technologies available to support a quest.  

With a curated directory of resources, StartupStash is a one-stop shop for startups. Specialist sites can help you capture ideas (Evernote), write business plans (Xtensio), build good-looking websites for free (Strikingly, Wix), outsource tasks (Freelancer, Upwork), find developers (Elance), get funding (Kickstarter, GoFundMe), or be discovered (Product Hunt). Mobile and cloud enable disruption from anywhere.

As well as design techniques such as interviews and observations, data should be harnessed to improve, predict, streamline and understand your audience and their needs. This includes social media and app/web analytics.

3. Be builders, designers and solvers of problems

Above all, don’t be paralysed from action by thinking others can or will do better. Each of us has a unique background, relationship network, perspective and skill set that can offer the same chance of success as those behind any of the greatest achievements and discoveries to date. Increasing our STEM literacy will propel this. 

Choose to be bothered by the problems that are not solved. Be mindful that breaking the assumptions of experts before us is often the beginning of a breakthrough. Instead of sorting through your end-of-day junk mail, mentally sift through the unsolved problems for which you have a perspective.

The opportunities for us to create new experiences and build and solve problems the rest of the world want to use is unprecedented.  The opportunity for people of all ages, including the newly graduated and newly retired, to collaborate is before us. 

When we write our CVs, perhaps we will move to evaluating talent less by the answers we have and more by the questions we pose. When we post on social media, maybe we’ll balance #selfie with more #built_designed_solved.

Kate Eriksson is the head of innovation at PwC Australia’s Digital Change services. A stalwart of the digital industry, Kate’s experience and network spans across some of the most iconic digital businesses in the world such as Google, Facebook, Skype and Twitter.

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