The Front End of Innovation in Review - a fascinating talk that turns Maslow's tired hierarchy of needs on its head, Boston, MA

By Lucy Robb, Research and Strategy Associate, Front End of Innovation

"I’m going to be honest, I went to Lindsay Angelo’s talk, Betterment, the Future of Retail & Maslow, mostly because Lindsay works for Lululemon and I’m a sucker for dropping a lot of money on a pair of Lululemon Wunder Under yoga pants. I wanted to judge the company that made yoga apparel mainstream more than I wanted to learn about the actual subject matter of Lindsay’s speech. Shame on me, I know. But here’s the thing, once I was in the room, I paid attention to the actual subject matter and it was really fascinating – Lindsay turned Maslow’s tired hierarchy of needs on its head.

As Lindsay explained it, “the democratization of retail is here.” What the heck does that mean? It means the big hurdles that traditionally existed in retail are coming down – for example, entities like Kickstarter and Indiegogo make it easier to access capital and entities like Amazon, Etsy, and ebay make it easier to access distribution. With reduced barriers to entry, that means the retail landscape is more dense and competitive than ever before.

So how does that impact retail? It means the bar for innovation is raised – this is where Maslow’s hierarchy comes into play. According to Lindsay, we are going through a market evolution or disruption where what was once considered rare is now considered ordinary. In other words, market and societal evolution is propelling us up Maslow’s hierarchy. We used to spend most of our time, energy, and resources on the bottom level of Maslow’s hierarchy – physiological needs (food, water, warmth, rest). But now, with technological and market advancements, more and more people are reaching toward the upper rung – self-actualization (achieving full potential, self-fulfillment). Said differently, today there is a trend toward self-betterment – we want to “choose a mind and a soul that is wide awake.” This creates an opportunity to innovate within this “betterment space” to tap into the evolving human needs.

Recognizing this flip in human needs, retail, like all industries, must adapt. Lululemon is doing so by looking at the inversion of Maslow’s hierarchy and spending time focused on creating spaces, services, and products that enable purpose, growth, and self-actualization. It’s an exciting time where retail isn’t just the product – so while I love my Wunder Unders, I think I love the thought of a retail experience built on elevating my personal growth and happiness even more.

And just like that, this is my last post for FEI 2017. The first of what I hope will be many FEI experiences may be over, but I will happily take the insights learned and connections made over the last few days home to share with anyone who will listen. Thanks for following along with Aaron Keller, Kitty Hart, and myself. Capsule is always interested in talking about design and would love to hear from you – please reach out!

Lucy Robb

Research and Strategy Associate