Seven and a half years ago I accepted an invitation from the World Economic Forum (WEF) to join something called the Global Agenda Council on Nanotechnologies. The aim was to address the main challenges facing nanotechnology.
Nobody involved either at WEF or nanotechnology seemed to have any idea what the outcome would be other than if you could get enough smart people together then something was bound to happen.
What did happen at the first meeting was technology push. We sat around and discussed how nanotechnology could save the world while a couple of people raised various worries about it ending the world. As I noted following the second meeting in 2009 “the biggest risk to our future is spending the next ten years discussing, mapping and regulating existing problems without attempting to find any solutions.”
After that the Nanotechnology Council became the Emerging Technologies Council but in 2014 the Council on Nanotechnology is back.
This years meeting started in a similar fashion – starting finding problems for nanotechnology to solve. But nanotechnology is a huge field with multiple impacts and this approach could go on for years. Seven years older (with less time to waste) and wiser in the ways of the world (Economic Forum) I decided a different tack was needed. Fortunately through my work at M+Vision the required tool was at hand, IDEA3 which is explained in more detail here.
While it is a privilege to be in a room full of the worlds top nanoscientists it is also my instinct as an entrepreneur to make things happen. To make the investment of time and money worthwhile there has to be some tangible output that creates an impact.
The IDEA3 process is an invaluable tool to define some form of unmet need, and we can then use the resources of WEF and the other Global Agenda Councils to validate that there is a real need (not one that we just imagine exists from a technology perspective). Only when we are absolutely certain that a real unmet need is there do we start thinking about possible solutions. The M+Vision experience in Madrid has shown this to be highly effective, and highly cost effective at generating innovation. More output, less investment, now that begins to sound attractive.
Thinking about nanotechnology before defining the need creates all kinds of bias which can be the kiss of death for any project. Applying IDEA3 in my sub group we clearly identified an unmet need, and managed to articulate a program to address this without even discussion the technologies that could be used. While in the past we would have struggled, the methodology allowed us to focus on a problem without any unconscious bias from our own interests and agendas, and saved a vast amount of time speculating. Daniel Kahneman would have approved.