Selling fridges to Eskimos

I gave a talk yesterday to the Local Government Group / The Young Foundation’s Ageing Well Learning Lab at the Design Council. I was asked to talk about Realising Technology’s Potential. My brief was to be provocative.

Much of the talk covered ground that I’ve been stomping for a few years now (e.g., here and here). Mainly the lack of any decent technology for older people or rather, the problem that emerges when we start to invent new stuff for older people that fails to sit on top of already existing technologies or, more precisely, platforms. I threw stones at easy targets, like the AAL but also tried to suggest the direction forward.

One idea I recommended was using empty retail space, of which there is no shortage in the UK, to showcase what exists, help people explore it, coach people on its use and to create hubs through which designers, developers and service providers can explore how the services they provide already can be given greater value or prominence sitting on platforms that are already out there. I have recommended this idea before but this recent post, advising tech companies how (not) to do developer days, made me think this idea does have some legs.

I invoked Peter Drucker’s wonderful 1954 essay on The Purpose and Objectives of a Business to frame the talk and used his great quote distinguishing innovation from invention to encourage us to stop inventing new things but build on what we have, hence the title of this blog post:

“A salesman who succeeds in selling refrigerators to Eskimos to prevent food from freezing would be as much of an innovator as if he had developed brand new processes or invented a new product”

Ageing Well Learning Lab