William Gibson, a science fiction author best known for his book Cyberpunk (in which he first coined the now familiar term “cyberspace”) wrote: “The street will find its own use for things”.

I have always taken that to mean that consumers, not manufacturers, are the final arbiters of how a technology or product will be used. Technology/products released for one purpose will invariably be used for unanticipated purposes. No boardroom, no posse of engineers or market researchers, will ever completely anticipate what uses consumers will find for their technology or products.

In fact, history suggests engineers and entrepreneurs alike are distinctly bad at predicting uses:

– The telephone was originally conceived as a means of “piping” opera into living rooms.
– Super glue was originally intended as a replacement for sutures
– The Web was invented to allow research scientists to share research papers.
– “Soap opera” TV shows were originally devised as advertisements (literally) for soap and washing products.

There is nothing wrong with this lack of “foresight”. After all, that is the very nature of innovation – you can’t predict it (if you could, it wouldn’t be innovative!).

The take away message here is that no one should constrain their innovations with preconceptions of what the market wants or how consumers will use a technology/product. Equally, the innovation doesn’t stop when a technology/product is released – often that is where the true innovation begins!