“EVERY MAN is in certain respects;
a. like all other men,
b. like some other men,
c. like no other man.
“He is like all other men because some of the determinants of his personality are universal to the species. That is to say, there are common features in the biological endowments of all men, in the physical environment they inhabit, and in the societies and cultures in which they develop. 

In certain features of personality, most men are “like some other men.” The similarity may be to other members of the same socio-cultural unit. The statistical prediction can safely be made that a hundred Americans, for example, will display certain defined characteristics more frequently than will a hundred Englishmen comparably distributed as to age, sex, social class, and vocation.

Finally, there is the inescapable fact that a man is in many respects like no other man. Each individual’s modes of perceiving, feeling, needing, and behaving have characteristic patterns which are not precisely duplicated by those of any other individual. This is traceable, in part, to the unique combination of biological materials which the person has received from his parents. More exactly, the ultimate uniqueness of each personality is the product of countless and successive interactions between the maturing constitution and different environing situations from birth onward.”

-Henry A. Murray and Clyde Kluckhohn, from Personality in Nature, Society, and Culture (1953).

All, Some, Me

In reading through the 100 “humble masterpieces” (paper clip, disposable lighter, eraser, etc.), several conclusions emerge. A key one is that many great innovations emerge because the inventor needed something, built a prototype — and discovered that other people too wanted it and would buy it. 

Much of applied innovation stems from amateur cultural anthropology. The anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn once stated, in only 18 words, what I believe is the key principle of empathic innovation. 

All of us are like everyone else. We share common needs, wants, values, desires, goals. All of us are like some other people — we all belong to groups, tribes, families, organizations, with shared values and personalities. And every one of us is like no one else — every one of us is unique. The circle diagram shows this — part of each of one of us is unique, part is like some other people, part is like all other people. 

Innovation begins with identifying an unsatisfied need. But how can such needs be found? Often, the best way is to search within ourselves and discover our own unsatisfied needs. The best place to search is in the “ALL” circle. The next best place is in the “SOME” circle. Increasingly this approach is proving fruitful. 

A previous blog cited the book Microtrends. A powerful successful business can be built on identifying an unmet need for only 1 percent of the population — “Some”.  

No business can be built on just “Me” – an unmet need that is unique to me and to me alone.  

Innovators should focus, I believe, on the “Some” circle, and the small area where “Some” intersects with “Me”, because this is where their chances of success are highest. In their business ideas, they should try to quantify, with circles, how wide this unmet really is, and how many people are characterized by it.  

To help with this task, ask:

* In what ways am I like ‘some other people’? Who are they? What are their goals, desires, wants, needs, personalities, values? 

* For this group, are there unmet needs? What are they? What are the key ones? How do I know? What is the evidence?

* How can I use enabling technology, where necessary, to meet this unmet need, to satisfy it, using a powerful creative business model? 

By beginning the invention and innovation process in this way, we ensure that we do not ‘push’ imaginative innovative products into a market where there is no real need, and instead, begin with a true need and pull technology in order to meet it.

And a good place to begin is to read Kluckhohn, who was passionate about the Navajo, a native American tribe, and other anthropologists, whose skill it is to ‘read’ other cultures. No skill can better serve an innovator seeking to empathize with all others, some others, and himself or herself.