Innovation: Why didn’t you say so?

Check your assumptions at the innovation door.

Innovation: Why didn’t you say so?


There are countless stories of ideas gone wrong.  “Why didn’t we think of that?”  “Oh, we didn’t see that coming!”.  “Oh really? You already do that?

Before the innovation process can even begin, it’s important to know exactly where we are and what ingredients we already might have to solve problems.  Making assumptions about a situation can be troublesome for multiple reasons.  Making assumptions early can complete bring innovation to a grinding halt.

How Can This Affect Innovation?

Much of the reason things don’t go well, is because they don’t start off well.  Like a golf ball that starts a single foot off course in the first few feet of the drive, that same golf ball will be hundreds of feet of course by the time it’s finished.  Innovation works much the same way.  Starting off properly, with a clean slate, no assumptions and a process can do wonders for the success of a project.

When people assume they know all the information about the problem, or even worse, they know what the problem is, the creativity process required in developing innovative solutions is often dead in the water.  At that point it’s not a process at all. It’s just a lesson in hope.

Summary Of Learnings

  • Although the word “problem” usually carries simplistic and negative connotations, problems are actually the beginning of the innovation process.
  • Problem finding is taking the initiative to discover problems to solve instead of waiting to react to problems that discover you. Creative individuals set themselves goals and challenges simply for the stimulation of finding good problems to solve.
  • Problem finding can be developed as a skilI, using prompter questions for both the organization and the individual.
  • The bridge between finding a problem and clearly defining it is fact finding.Seven fact finding strategies help to remove the “fuzziness” from a problem:divergently seeking possibly relevant facts; using several viewpoints; being aware of unconscious assumptions; avoiding a negative attitude toward “problems”; sharing information; having the courage to say what you think;  and looking for the truth rather than ways to boost your ego.
  • A number of useful questions help to uncover important facts about a problem. These facts go beyond information you generate from conventional techniques such as quality control histograms, process flow charts and market research questionnaires. The specific technique you use is less important than the process you follow in learning what you can about the  fuzzy situation.
  • Answers to these questions should be simple but precise in order to ensure effective fact finding and, hence, an insightful problem definition. Avoid the use of judgment while gathering facts. Then evaluate the facts in order to select the few that provide new insights.
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