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Innovation Habit #2: Start With Problems, Not Ideas

Do you know what you get when you do a Google image search on the word "innovation?"

Light bulbs.

This illustrates a fundamental flaw in humanity's understanding of innovation, and perhaps the #1 challenge we must overcome to raise our innovative capacity. We think innovation starts with bright ideas when in fact it begins with problems.

Real innovators are surprisingly dismissive of ideas. They know they're a dime a dozen.

What real innovators value are problems. Big, important, clearly articulated problems. This is why Albert Einstein said, "If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” It is why Charles Kettering said, "A problem well-stated is a problem half solved."

Many who read the Einstein and Kettering quotes will vigorously nod their heads in agreement,  yet their everyday behavior belies an instinctive trust in the "bright idea."

Here's what typically happens when an executive has an idea:

Old Habit To Be Broken

Your Current Process

There are three key problems with this process:

  1. You often end up focusing the resources of your organization on problems that are not the most important problems.
  2. You only consider one solution to the problem when, with very minimal effort, many other potentially betters solutions could be generated.
  3. Rather than collaboratively and synergistically developing a solution that truly represents your organizations' best insights and ideas, you have to "sell" an idea that many may quietly resist.

Instead of reactively running with your idea, allow the experience of a new idea to trigger a proactive innovation process, as follows:

New Habit to Adopt

New Habit

To paraphrase Aristotle, we are our habits. If you can train yourself, and ultimately your organization, to start the innovation process with clearly defined problems rather than ideas, you will be well on your way to becoming a high-performing innovator.

Gray Somerville

Gray Somerville is a serial entrepreneur, innovation expert, and LaunchPath’s CEO. Besides LaunchPath, Gray has helped launch and lead three other successful startups including Telogical Systems and Adacus.

@graysomerville