Redefining problems in your business as a basis for idea regeneration
PUBLISHED: 14:07 23 October 2018 | UPDATED: 14:07 23 October 2018
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Nik Venios is the founder of BEAF, an innovation agency which works with some of the biggest global brands; groundbreaking start-ups and established SMEs. Here, he asks companies what's the difference between a poor problem and a great one - and how that can propel your business into the stratosphere
I believe that there’s never been a bad product or service created, simply solutions that answer poorly defined problems.
Einstein is reported to have said that if he only had one hour to solve a problem, then he would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and 5 minutes solving it. I have found this to be true, 100% of the time when working with clients to develop new ideas. The idea is the easy part, it’s defining the problem which requires effort.
In this article, I will explain how you can start to define your problem and turn those unproductive six-hour ideation sessions - where everyone sits around and tries to come up with a better product than the one the competitors have just released – into a great basis for idea generation.
I recently spent a day with a group of execs leading an ideas workshop at The Royal Observatory in Greenwich. The reason I mention the location is that it is always better to start an ideas session out of your office building. A change of environment is always good.
Anyway, the client had flown in their leadership team from the US so there was a huge amount of pressure on me to deliver a thunderbolt of a solution to their problem.
They wanted to know how they could use Artificial Intelligence to: “…Fuel business growth and create competitive advantage that will make us stand out from our competitors & deliver a tangible business benefit.”
The first thing I said to the Board was this.
“The problem you sent me ahead of time is not a problem at all, but an outcome.”
Just a note - don’t ever start an ideas workshop with that. It doesn’t go down well.
The difference between a poor problem and a great problem can be surmised in this incredibly complex formula.
Poor problem has only one answer; five plus five, equals?
Great problem, has many, many answers; which two numbers add up to ten?
So, how do you generate a great problem in two steps?
1. Create Parameters
The letters BS should be stripped from being used to describe bull manure and applied to blue sky.
I can’t stand the phrase. It’s something teams are always asked to do as if it’s a detailed instruction to developing killer ideas. Ideas that come out of blue sky sessions are typically BS.
The first thing to do, always, is start with parameters.
The idea should;
• Make money within six months
• Speed up client interaction
• Make our processes faster
• Change customer expectations
You need about 6-10 parameters. These are the gates through which the BS ideas are sifted from the ones with legs.
2. What benefits do you provide?
Once you have your parameters all set up, you should focus on benefits. I will explain what I mean with a little story.
In 1900, millions of tonnes of ice was cut by hand from the lakes of North America and Europe to be transported to the ice-houses of the wealthy and various businesses to keep food and goods cool.
The people that cut the ice from the lakes were known as ice harvesters, like the guys in the image. They would live in a cold desolate place, wait for winter to come, go and cut ice from the lakes.
20 years later, there were no ice harvesters left on the planet. We’d invented a way to centrally freeze ice in ice factories. All the ice blocks were uniform and the ice factories were located next to the businesses they served. What innovation.
A mere 20 years after that, all the ice factories closed down - because everyone had an ice factory in their own home.
The interesting thing is, none of the ice harvesters went on to become ice factories, and none of the ice factories went on to become refrigerator or freezer manufacturers.
The reason for this is that most companies define themselves by the products and services they provide, not the benefits they provide to their customers.
If you define yourself as ‘we freeze ice centrally’ then you remain an ice factory.
However, if the ice factory bosses had defined themselves as ‘we help people’s food stay fresher for longer’, they could have gone into vacuum packing, food processing and increasing food longevity.
They could have become refrigeration manufacturers.
So, the second thing you do is write out a list of the benefits you provide.
Once you have your parameters and your benefits, you can create a good problem to solve.
3. A good problem
So, back to Greenwich. After six hours working with the client, they had the parameters an idea should meet, the benefits their company provided and a problem derived from those two exercises.
“How can we deliver game-changing insight that makes our customer more successful?”
That’s an easy problem to solve. We generated 12 solid ideas in two hours - two of which are being rolled out now.
If you’d like me to come and work with your company on developing the right problem to solve, before generating disruptive ideas, then I would love to have a call with you. All my info is at the bottom of the page.
Telephone: 01242 420726