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Image: Courtesy of 19.media

It can be quite a challenge to have an office in downtown Los Angeles. You walk by the shoeshine man that sells illegal cigarettes on the side, the older woman with bible verses plastered on her clothes, the yeller, the screamer, the starer, the follower. Some people scare me. Some people amuse me. Some people make my heart bleed.

Before I started this venture, I lived the typical pod experience: From the work pod to the home pod to the entertainment pod. The journeys in-between (mostly spent on freeways) were pure annoyances, life wasted.

We tend to get insights from people when they’re in their pod. In the old days, we moved them from the work pod to the market research pod. Nowadays, we add to the mix a lot of social insights, gathered from people who are either in their work, home or entertainment pod. This is valuable and has its place.

But, to really understand people, we need to leave our pods. Because the real interesting stuff happens outside of pods. Outside of places where we have to play a role (and, yes, we all do play a role when we use social platforms) and be not exactly who we are. Or meant to be. These interesting things will give us insights to help make people’s lives better. It will help us doing things, providing services and creating products that are of real value to people.

“Hidden Heroes: The Genius of Everyday Things” is an exhibition in Weil am Rhein, Germany, that displays objects like a corkscrew, paper clip, clothespin, egg carton and 30 other useful and familiar objects. Very simple inventions that barely changed over time. Because there was no need to improve them.

“The German pharmacist Maximilian Negwer hit upon his 1907 idea of cushioning wax ear plugs with cotton wool when reading Homer’s “The Odyssey.” Untangling burrs from his dog’s fur after an Alpine hunting trip prompted the Swiss engineer George de Mestral to develop Velcro fabric fastener in the 1940s and 1950s.

Air bubble film, or bubble wrap, was conceived in the 1950s after a Swiss inventor, Marc Chavannes, noticed how the clouds seemed to cushion an airplane as it descended, and realized that a similar effect could be achieved in packaging by sealing air inside plastic film. An American scientist, Art Fry, dreamed up the Post-it note in the late 1970s when singing in a church choir. He couldn’t find the right page in his hymn book because the paper bookmark kept slipping out.”

The common theme of all these stories is that none of these inventions were made inside an office. People had insights or flashes of inspiration when they were living their everyday life. If we really believe that the future of marketing is in delivering value, being of service and helpful, then we need to leave our pods more often.

Otherwise, you’ll never see the shoeshine man that sells illegal cigarettes on the side, the older woman with bible verses plastered on her clothes, the yeller, the screamer, the starer, the follower. You can’t find that in a PowerPoint or spreadsheet.