Innovation starts with problems, not with ideas.

We often think of innovation as starting with an idea nobody has had before. More often it starts with a problem or opportunity nobody has noticed before. 

3D Problem Solving
3D problem solving, by Chris Potter, on Flickr

You want to become an innovative organisation?  If so, it is tempting to focus on the ideation process, and to create an innovation funnel to filter out ideas (even though this really doesn’t work well at all).

However you may be starting at the wrong end.

In his blog “The 4 Types of Innovation and the Problems They Solve“, Greg Satell states that

 “every innovation strategy fails eventually, because innovation is, at its core, about solving problems — and there are as many ways to innovate as there are types of problems to solve. There is no one “true” path to innovation.”

The path to innovation is to find new problems and new opportunities which will really help the organisation.  And so long as it is really relevant to the business, the more difficult, scary, or audacious the problem the better. You cannot get people to step outside the box if you give them a problem they can solve inside the box. Or you find what Mukesh Gupta calls the “invisible problems” – the ones that nobody has noticed.

Once you have selected the correct problem, there is a crucial intermediary step, which is to fully explore the problem.

  • You can see this in the deep dive process shown in this video – where the team has 3 days to innovate and spends the first whole day exploring the problem. 
  • You can see this in the after action review process (often a trigger for incremental innovation), where the questioning process includes identifying the things that did not go to plan  and performing a root cause analysis of these problem areas before suggesting solutions.
  • You can see this in this blog post from Anita Campbell, who describes a structured process for creating a Problem Definition, after which innovation can begin. 
Only once you have started with a problem or an opportunity which you have fully explored, understanding the constraints and the complexities, can you start to create, combine and remix existing ideas to solve these problems.

You want to be innovative? Start with finding a new problem

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

How to innovate

Innovation has a recipe. Here is how it works

It’s tempting to think of innovation as a “flash of inspiration” – a blinding idea – a lightbulb going off.  However – counterintuitively – many of the most innovative and imaginative teams and companies use a structured and deliberate process to innovate; a process that starts not with an idea, but with a problem.

We can see this structure below in the clip from IDEO, which shows their innovation DeepDive process applied to the problem of innovating the humble Shopping Trolley.

Notice how they go through several deliberate steps in their Deep Dive – a process similar to our Business Driven Action Learning Innovation process. The steps are

1) Identification of the problem
2) Data gathering around the problem
3) Sharing and consolidation of the findings and re-definition of the problem
4) Idea creation and mock-up
5) Idea combination
6) Solution testing

Note how they spend the enitre first day just working on the problem, long before any ideas are generated.

The ground rules are interesting;

  • Stay focused on topic
  • One conversation at a time
  • Encourage wild ideas
  • Build on the ideas of others
  • Defer judgment

Note also the deliberate time pressure, and listen to the summary at the end.

Innovation has a recipe. It can be deliberate. It can be structured. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike – go out there and hunt it down.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

The personality traits needed for innovation (example of the Wright brothers)

Why were the Wright brothers the first to invent the aeroplane? Perhaps because there were two of them!

Wilbur and Orville Wright, from wikimedia commons

Anyone who is interested in innovation should read the Basadur Applied Creativity site. They have some very interesting models for the innovation cycle, but also a really useful model about the character traits required for innovation. They also offer an online (paid) service for assessing the creativity styles of your team.

Basadur recognise 4 main types of person needed for innovation:
  • The Generators are the big thinkers – the ones who spot a potential untapped area, a gap in the market, or a new innovation opportunity. They find problems.
  • The Conceptualisers are the ones who like to work with a problem until they fully understand the forces at work, and the possible ways in which the problem might be addressed. They understand problems.
  • The Optimisers are the people who like to look for solutions, and to fix things. They solve problems.
  • The Implementers are the people who like to get things done. They implement solutions.
You need all 4 types of people within the creativity cycle, if an idea is to be created, understood, solved and implemented.

However these people are very different in outlook and working style. 

The Generators and Optimisers do not understand each other at all. Once is looking for problems, the other for solutions. They find each other frustrating to work with. The Conceptualisers and Implementers also are chalk and cheese. One is pressing for deadlines, the other saying “hang on, we don’t understand what we are dealing with yet”. Each is a source of huge exasperation for the other.

This is one of the reasons why lone creators are so rare; they tend to represent only one of the four types above, so look at only one aspect of teh innovation cycle. Innovation is a team activity, and an activity for  balanced and well managed team with LOADS of creative friction and tension.
And that may be why the Wright brothers won the race for powered flight. They were brothers, they had contrasting personalities, and they argued like anything.
According to Notable Biographies

“Their personalities were perfectly complementary (each provided what the other lacked). Orville was full of ideas and enthusiasms. Wilbur was more steady in his habits, more mature in his judgments, and more likely to see a project through”.

And according to the Smithsonian National Air and Space museum

“Relying on each other’s strengths and compensating for each other’s weaknesses was crucial to their invention of the airplane. Neither probably could have achieved alone what they did as a team. “I like scrapping with Orv,” Wilbur said, “he’s such a good scrapper.” Heated discussions were a frequent and significant aspect of the Wrights’ creative process. Their ability to defend a position with genuine passion, while considering the other’s point of view, was essential to their inventive success”.

Orville was a Conceptualiser, Wilbur was an Implementer, and they managed their creation tension through a brotherly bond and heated arguments.

The challenge for any innovation team leader is to create a team with similar diverse character traits,  to build a bond as strong as the Wright brothers’, and to manage the heated arguments and scraps that will surely be necessary as part of the creative process.

If you can do this, maybe you too can match the same level of success the Wright brothers demonstrated.

View Original Source Here.

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