You can’t be a leader playing follow the leader. Nanovation is about getting ahead of the leaders, about getting to the intersection of trends first. Nanovators aren’t necessarily futurists, but they do pay close attention to the early warning signs that precede major cultural, societal and market shifts. They tune into the ways seemingly unrelated patterns are shaping our world.

Discontinuities hold the potential for tremendous opportunity. Where most people see an isolated trend, Nanovators see combinations. They connect the dots by relating one trend to several others. The intersection or convergence of these trends represents an opportunity for innovation.

Nanovation is all about the convergence of three specific trends.

Miniaturization: Everyone speaks of the miniaturization of computing power, from tube-based computational machines which took up the space of a suburban house to calculate basic mathematical problems to today’s mobile devices which most of us carry. But it’s not just in computing that we’re seeing the power of miniaturization. The pace of change of innovation in small things is proceeding at an ever accelerating pace. And it’s changing the way we think about what’s possible.

The Bottom of the Pyramid: There are nearly eight billion people living on Earth today, more than half of them living so far beneath anything a person reading this book would think of as the poverty line, that their problems would seem incomprehensible to us. Half the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day, without access to education, healthcare, transportation, information, sanitation, nutrition, clean water or anything we would think necessary for life. Add to those numbers another few billion who live just above the poverty line, the lucky ones whose economy helps them eke out $2 to $3 a day, and the picture of the world in which most human beings live seems bleak. Their needs—and our need to enfranchise them into the global culture and economy—will be a driving force in innovative thinking throughout this next century, at least.

Doing More With Less: These days, it doesn’t take a genius to see that we need to rethink our use of resources. As we said earlier, doing more with less is one of the key drivers of Nanovation. As the global economy has stalled, all but the most fabulously wealthy have had to reexamine their relationship with materialism, with efficiency and with energy use. As the world watch BP’s disastrous well in the Gulf of Mexico belch millions of barrels of oil into the ocean, it was hard not to think that it was past time to examine our out-of-balance dependence on harder-to-find fossil fuels. And as we watch our climate change, the idea of being more thoughtful in our consumption—the idea that it’s always smarter to maximize one’s resources than it is to squander them—becomes increasingly compelling.

What is the next big thing in your industry? Chances are good that the genesis of it will come from somewhere outside your current thinking. Outside, at the intersection of trends.