The Problem

In my first entries, I stated that I felt that there were 3 items necessary ingredients for innovation.  The first that I briefly discussed was the resources and allowing people the time to spend in this area.  The second ingredient was that the Culture needs to support the elements necessary for innovation.  This is the third entry which I call the problem.


In order to better target innovation, having the right problem is critical to get to value.  In the end that is what we need to target our innovation to deliver.  Without turning innovations into value, that would be innovation for innovation sake.  There are lots of examples of companies and groups that were good at that, but are out of business.

As I think about this, there might be 3 different types of problems we could target out there, the incremental problem, the growth (or adjacency) problem and the transformational problem.  All three are necessary to solve within companies and all three are important to innovation.   How you go about asking the question sets up which problem type you are solving.  if you ask an incremental question, you will get an incremental answer.   Innovation comes from finding the right question and gearing your work towards solving that question.

The incremental problem might be "how do I improve the mouse I use on the system supplied?".  It drives the conversation into a very specific area that improves the existing system (incremental solution).  We might develop a better movement capability, or a better finger click mechanism or even move from a roller ball to a light reflection method to move the mouse.  All great changes, but more tailored to improving and existing capability.

We can also think in terms of the question, "what else can I do with this type of interaction? This opens the door for thinking about having a touchpad, a pointer or other methods that allow for lots of possibilities with respect to the mouse by changing form factor, or mouse interaction to allow for other things to be enabled through the same interaction.  Again, this is important as we continue to evolve and provide new capabilities that might have ways to grow our capabilities delivered by these new types of interactions.  All of these are really an aspect of growth of the existing capabilities into new areas.

The last method, would be about asking the question "how else can I interact with the system?". This is the transformational question.  It opens the door to thinking about voice, gesture or other methods to replace the mouse (and even assumes that there is no mouse to begin with).  This is part of why how we address the question is so important.  In some cases, it removes the barriers and starts with our desired states.

You might ask what are methods to start asking the right questions?  It really depends on which innovation you are after.  If you are after the incremental innovation, i.e. improving on what you have, it is fine to use the team that actually supports the system.  There are also some methods, Kiazen for example, that help to explore these incremental innovations.  This is also one of the easier ways to approach the question because we always tend towards incremental improvements.

When approaching the growth problem, adding diversity to your teams is a great way to start.  Bringing in customers  or other groups that are outside the actual development and support of the product aid in creating an atmosphere that allows to open up the question to a more broad technique.  This might help expand the market for this type of capability.

Solving for a transformational innovation starts with having teams that are not looking at the problem the same way.  Diversity helps to ensure that people have different views of the problems.  It also helps to have a formal facilitator that ensures that your team is willing to explore the ridiculous.  Specifically, when people go in with the mindset of that is impossible, or that does not make sense, you are limiting the viewpoint on how folks approach any given set of problems.  An age old story helps to illustrate why sometimes you have to explore the more ridiculous capabilities.

All methods need to be examined and should be used to explore the edges of each innovation.

To summarize, we should use the ingredients of Resources, Culture and Question to mix our processes to allow the organization to truly leverage it’s capabilities to drive innovation and in the end, help our business drive to new heights in business value.