Columnists: Ruth Mourik, DuneWorks

Published on: 31 May 2016

Solutions to non-existing problems

I really feel sorry for all those energy efficiency technology developers out there. These smart men (let’s be honest, most of them are male) feel the need to contribute to this enormous global problem of making our world more energy efficient. They know what to do about it. It’s not like they need to think about it, they know how to solve it, they do act as we all demand from our decision makers.

In fact, they often knew already years ago, and acted already years ago! What they did? They developed these incredibly smart technologies; smart displays, real time visualized feedback apps, smart algorithms that could identify what kind of appliance a household owned simply by analyzing the patterns of energy use in the home, sophisticated granular monitoring devices and more of these innovative, creative, and above all smart technological solutions.

But then they encountered these really stupid people (people like most of you and me). People who did not understand how smart their solutions were and did not even want to take some time or make an effort to understand the technologies. If only they did make an effort to understand the technologies they would surely have understood how smart these solutions were…

But are these solutions really smart? What does smart mean actually? The dictionary states that smart means apt, able, well educated, well read, perceptive, percipient, discerning, streetwise, common sense, understanding, comprehending, knowing. What these words have in common?

Being smart means that you know what the world around you is doing, needs and you also know how to respond to it. It is about really understanding, knowing, and sensing what is needed. So, instead of trying to educate all of these stupid people like you and me, being smart actually means listening to what we need, making an effort at understanding us! In other words, as a bright industrial design student stated at the Behave conference in Oxford a few years ago, when a technology is not being understood, it’s not the user who is stupid, but the technology.

Many entrepreneurs developing these smart solutions are increasingly feeling like trying to push a bolder up the hill. And they are starting to reflect on why this is. There are different phases of awareness discernible.

The first level is the entrepreneur stating: I wish we could hire a good sales person! The problem with this level of awareness is that these entrepreneurs are still thinking that a better sales pitch will solve their problem. Then there are entrepreneurs that think that organizing training for the potential clients to help them better understand how smart their solution actually is will be the best approach… The problem with this level is that it is still about convincing the client about the greatness of the product. The next level is the entrepreneur who heard that there is such a thing as non-energy or multiple benefits to energy efficiency. These entrepreneurs are selling their solution as something delivering energy efficiency and better indoor climate, more productivity, or a lower bill as well! This is more or less where we stand now. Which is already much better, but we need even more reflective and aware entrepreneurs.

There are some entrepreneurs out there who have come to the realization that what they are actually selling is a solution to a non-existing problem. And that instead of finding a problem to their solution, what they had better started with is being REALLY smart. Really smart meaning listening to, observing and speaking with potential clients, understanding how they live, what they need, really getting to know them. Being smart means developing in a demand driven and user centered way, not creating even more solutions in need of problems.


Other columns by Ruth Mourik