How to Determine What the World Needs

Someone on Quora asked the question "What is best way to determine what the world needs?" in response to a question about why Silicon Valley often seems to focus on irrelevant trivia. The following is my answer:

  • Don't pretend that you're an expert if you aren't. If you haven't taught but want to fix the education system, it might be best to ask a teacher (or some current students). If you want to work on international development, then you should talk with the communities that the development would benefit as well as aid workers who have been in those communities for years.
  • Focus on what you're passionate about. There are enough problems in the world that we need all of the solutions we can get. If you work on something that you aren't passionate about because you think that it's a "more important" issue, then you'll probably burn out, which doesn't help anyone. That said, it's good if you also come in with an open mind.
  • Focus on real needs (both current and future). This begs the question, "what is a real need?" Since you didn't ask for what the world needs but how to find it, I will suggest that this step requires some philosophical introspection. Personally, I am a utilitarian and a liberal humanist, which means that I think that we should reduce human (and animal) suffering as much as possible. If you're interested in a more detailed classification of focus areas, check out If you're interested in more well-established lists of problems, check out the UN Millennium Development Goals and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For philosophical introspection, I recommend "The Plague" by Albert Camus.
  • The world doesn't always need new technology. It, often, needs cultural changes as well as or instead of new technology. In plenty of cases, it needs less technology. That's not to say, however, that there isn't a lot that a technologist can do!
  • Get inspired. Don't listen to naysayers. If you see the glass half empty, then you aren't very well situated to figure out what the world needs or to give it what it needs. For me, I like to hear stories of people doing the impossible. Stories from the civil rights movement and women's rights movements, from Mandela in South Africa or from Gandhi in India, from Dr. Larry Brilliant on eradicating small pox ( or from any number of other stories should keep you in good company as you seek to solve previously impossible problems.