There is a well-known, and often quoted rule of brainstorming: “the more ideas you have the better” well, in theory, yes, the more ideas you have the better the chance there will be a good one in there, and, many successful innovators have had many ideas…. However, the challenge faced by most organisations is not the generation of ideas but knowing which ones are worth progressing.
Why can identifying a problem be so powerful? We believe it is because without a problem one generates ideas not solutions. Humans by nature are problem-solvers. With a well-defined problem, the output of creativity is solutions. Judging how well a solution addresses a problem is far easier than identifying whether an idea will fly.
The crew of Apollo 13 are often quoted as saying: “Houston we have a problem”. That statement led NASA personnel to undertake one of the highest profile, highly constrained, problem solving exercises ever. Were you the crew of Apollo 13 which would you rather hear “Apollo 13 we’ve had lots of ideas” or “Apollo 13 we have a solution”?
In business, as in many areas of life today, the word problem has negative connotations. The language of business reinforces this e.g. a struggling new product is a “problem child”. The issue is not with the word but with the association. We believe that identifying a problem is a good thing, especially when you take the time to tightly define it, agree it, articulate it, evaluate it, and then, galvanise your resources around solving it. The process of doing this will increase your understanding of your industry area better than most training days, you will galvanise your teams around delivering solutions better than any team-working exercise will do, and, you will motivate your staff in a way that bonus schemes fail to do so.
Taking time to get the problem definition right before you start generating solutions will enable you to select your solution confident in the knowledge that it will deliver value to you and your customers. Having a well-defined problem is key to getting a well-supported solution.