Innovation is about values and Inflammatory Bowel Disease can prove it.

Marketing is about values. Steve Jobs famously said that to his employees in 1997 before introducing a new TV spot for Apple. Jobs also knew that so was innovation. That's what made him so brilliant.

The problem with the way most new ideas are generated is that it lacks a focus on the underlying values that drive a population to seek the products or services being created.

Figuring out WHAT people need in a product isn't WHY they buy/adopt/advocate for it. This is a critical distinction, that is often missed. Especially in the research that is typically used to support innovation projects.

Four months ago, our team studied thousands of patients suffering from various stages of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in the United States. When studying some of the conversations we realized that almost every patient feels a lack of empathy and respect from their friends and family, for what they're going through. There's a lack of education on what IBD really is, and how it is something people need to live with for the rest of their lives. It's the reason why someone can't go out to dinner with their friends or grab drinks on the fly with colleagues. IBD, we realized, is a bit of a relationship killer. And patients feel a lack of respect and support from their close knit circles.

This is an example of WHY you'd innovate. What we've uncovered here is an underlying belief, a motivation, an ideology, that drives these patients to naturally want to come together to spread greater awareness for their affliction.

During our research, we also uncovered great opportunities around WHAT kinds of ideas you could generate. For example, we found patients using self-hacks (often excel sheets or apps like myfitnesspal) to record what they ate and drank, what treatment plans they were on, how it affected their system, how it made them feel etc.. Recording this information helped them not only learn about themselves but also then report back to their Physician.

The natural inkling of most people when we tell them this story is to focus on the what because it's tangible. It's simple. And you can easily envision the kinds of technology based solutions you'd create to fulfill these "unmet" needs of IBD patients. But that's not the reason why that product will be adopted or loved by the IBD community. Rather, it will be adopted and loved when it (whatever that product or piece of innovation ends up being) is created because of the why. The underlying purpose that drives the innovation here is to give the IBD community a platform to gain more respect from their family, friends and colleagues for what they're going through. It is a purpose that will not only drive adoption, but create incredible equity for the creator who has now naturally gained empathy by demonstrating to the marketplace, that she/he understands the population's motivations.


Ujwal is a cultural anthropologist and the co-founder of MotivIndex.com, the leader in Digital Motivation Research.