Big Idea 2013: Designing the Necessities of Life

December 11, 2012

Humanity spends billions every year designing, developing, and marketing new things. The question I have is, are we directing those efforts appropriately?

Research suggests that beyond a certain point consumption does not increase happiness. So why are we spending so much time creating new things for those of us who already have so much?

The steady increase in new forms of consumption based on a 'shared economy' might indicate that many people—especially younger people—are turning away from materialism. Coincidentally, the steady increase in graduates choosing to pursue careers in social entrepreneurship might indicate a search for alternative forms of self-realization.

Most of the greatest challenges that face our species today are not ones that reside at the peak of Maslow’s hierarchy. Instead, they concern life’s most basic needs:

  • How might we create a sustainable balance between the needs of 9 billion people and the productive capacity of the planet?

  • Where will sustainable supplies of energy, food, and water come from in the future?

  • How might we design our cities to be safe, productive, and sustainable places for us to inhabit?

  • How might we conquer the ravages of chronic diseases that threaten to reverse the steady increase in human lifespan?

  • How might we design systems to support graceful aging and dignified death?

  • How might we feed, clothe, educate, and give shelter to the more than 3 billion people who live on less than $2.50 a day?

The list goes on, and yet we are dedicating a tiny proportion of our creative efforts to these challenges. What is especially confounding is that locked up in every one of these challenges is the potential for vast amounts of economic wealth. Never has ‘doing well by doing good’ shown such promise as it does today.

So, my big idea for 2013 is that we go back to basics and direct our creative efforts toward designing the necessities of life.

Which of life’s necessities are you choosing to focus your creative energies on?

(Photo courtesy of — cookstove research in Tanzania)

(posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)