The more problems you have, the more opportunity there is for innovation
Last year the theme of the articles was the improvement of innovation skills and practices. This is mainly because I have always reasoned that innovation is a skill that can be learned and improved upon.
Over the course of the last decade, research on innovation has increased exponentially and the tactics and practices I advocate are backed by empirical research. Hence, the rationale for focusing on these matters is that organisations can not just leave innovation to chance. Like any organisational discipline, you have to improve innovation skills and practices constantly and consistently to stay competitive.
I have looked at a number of techniques last year on how to improve innovation in organisations like taking small steps at first, cultivating creativity, how to sell ideas in the organisation, taking innovation out of the business-as-usual structures, and goal setting and imposing constraints as methods of stimulating innovation. I have also mentioned many times that good ideas start with good problems, so in this delivery I want to unpack this statement a bit.
Necessity is the mother of invention
The above expression literally means that when the need for something becomes essential, you are forced to find ways of getting or achieving it. There are many practical examples available on the Internet of where something was invented because of a pressing need.
To name a few directed at some basics needs that humans have, e.g. keeping food fresh (refrigerators and freezers), access to clean water (dams, pipes, troughs, and even aqueducts), fighting disease (vaccines), protection from the elements (shoes), etc.
Without dwelling into the actual history of how these inventions came about, it is easy to connect the need with the actual solution that was developed. However, as Homo sapiens evolved, most of these basic needs were resolved and it has become more challenging to identify needs (problems). The good news (for any innovator) is that as our lives and societies have become more complex, we also create more and more problems for ourselves!
Taking it back to corporate innovation. Many successful products and services have been developed by companies who wanted to solve a specific problem or frustration for their customers, e.g. customers hate standing in bank queues, OK, let’s have them transact through the Internet and call it Internet Banking.
Simply put, effective innovation is all about matching relevant problems with simple solutions. You can approach it in two different ways. One way is to create the ideas and solutions first and later try to match these to target groups with problems relevant to your solutions. Or you can do it the other way by first identifying the relevant problems of the target groups and then creating ideas and solutions to solve those problems.
But how should you go about finding relevant problems among your target groups? Here are five ways to help you in practice as listed by Gijs van Wulfen:
• Visit customers at their homes or companies and get acquainted with them.
• Have your customers demonstrate how they use your product and observe how it’s used in practice.
• Invite customers to focus groups and listen to their issues.
• Ask customers which products in your domain are their favourites and why.
• Crowdsource customer problems by asking customers to post their input on issues, suggestions, improvements or ideas on relevant places on the web.
If you think about it, the list above is all about communicating with your customer, so why then is it so difficult for organisations to do that? A customer complaint is a good start for finding a good problem to solve!
I’ve laid the foundation now for finding good problems and hence, there are some tried and tested problem solving techniques that I want to discuss in the following delivery.
I conclude with a quote from Gerhard Gschwandtner to summarize all I’ve said: ““Problems are nothing but wake-up calls for creativity”.