Are You Solving the Right Problem?

Posted on: August 31st, 2012 by bobmorris

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Dwayne Spradlin for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.

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“If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.” Albert Einstein

Those were wise words, but from what I have observed, most organizations don’t heed them when tackling innovation projects. Indeed, when developing new products, processes, or even businesses, most companies aren’t sufficiently rigorous in defining the problems they’re attempting to solve and articulating why those issues are important. Without that rigor, organizations miss opportunities, waste resources, and end up pursuing innovation initiatives that aren’t aligned with their strategies. How many times have you seen a project go down one path only to realize in hindsight that it should have gone down another? How many times have you seen an innovation program deliver a seemingly breakthrough result only to find that it can’t be implemented or it addresses the wrong problem? Many organizations need to become better at asking the right questions so that they tackle the right problems.

I offer here a process for defining problems that any organization can employ on its own. My firm, InnoCentive, has used it to help more than 100 corporations, government agencies, and foundations improve the quality and efficiency of their innovation efforts and, as a result, their overall performance. Through this process, which we call challenge-driven innovation, clients define and articulate their business, technical, social, and policy issues and present them as challenges to a community of more than 250,000 solvers—scientists, engineers, and other experts who hail from 200 countries—on InnoCentive.com, our innovation marketplace. Successful solvers have earned awards of $5,000 to $1 million.

Since our launch, more than 10 years ago, we have managed more than 2,000 problems and solved more than half of them—a much higher proportion than most organizations achieve on their own. Indeed, our success rates have improved dramatically over the years (34% in 2006, 39% in 2009, and 57% in 2011), which is a function of the increasing quality of the questions we pose and of our solver community. Interestingly, even unsolved problems have been tremendously valuable to many clients, allowing them to cancel ill-fated programs much earlier than they otherwise would have and then redeploy their resources.

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To read the complete article, please click here.

Dwayne Spradlin is the president and CEO of InnoCentive, an online marketplace that connects organizations with freelance problem solvers in a multitude of fields. He is a co-author, with Alpheus Bingham, of The Open Innovation Marketplace: Creating Value in the Challenge Driven Enterprise (FT Press, 2011).

 


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