If Apple had waited for people to demand a small, portable MP3 player, we’d still be waiting for that first iPod. And that’s the cool thing about disruptive innovations that change everything — they catch people by surprise.

Digital World

Of course, market disruptors have been around for a long time. The introduction of the English Long Bow completely changed the course of history. The invention of kitty litter allowed millions of people to become pet owners and created a huge new pet care market — as well as thousands of Internet memes.

We live in the 4th Industrial Revolution, and our biggest disruptions are enabled by digital technologies. But just as with the invention of the Long Bow, the biggest successes will come when these new product services surprise people with a solution to a problem they couldn’t articulate.

Second screen technology is already disrupting how we engage with conference audiences. And I am excited when I think about how digital breakthroughs might combine to bring other solutions to industry problems we don’t even register. 3D printing and micro-customization. Drones with cameras and sensors that talk to beacons. Smart watches that connect your biofeedback with a virtual reality experience. The whole “Internet of Me” trend. We can combine these to make experiences better, less complicated, and more personal. And we can pull better metrics to improve our game.

That’s the beauty of design thinking. If you start with the idea of solving a thorny problem, your result will be a product or service that already has a market. The digitization of the market place has accelerated the cycle of consumer demand and abandonment. But if we stay focused on designing for the needs and wants of our audiences — instead of waiting for them to tell us what they want — we win.

Remember, no one asked for an iPod. Until they couldn’t live without it.