Vern Burkhardt is one of the best interviewers in the innovation space. I am pleased to have spent time with him for a two-part interview. Here are the first two questions/answers for the first interview. At the end you can follow the link to the IdeaConnection website for the other 38 questions.
Vern Burkhardt (VB): In Personality Poker you focus on “challenge-driven” Innovation. Why?
Stephen Shapiro: I love to quote Albert Einstein when talking about this topic. He said if I had an hour to save the world, I’d spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute finding solutions. From my experience, most organizations are spending 60 minutes finding solutions to problems that don’t matter.
When you focus on challenges you’re able to create solutions that are relevant to the needs of the organization. By contrast, when you focus on broad ideas you don’t know which ones are going to be useful. This creates a lot of noise in the system and makes innovation much less efficient.
VB: In your article “how to Create a Culture of Innovation” you say, ‘The “meta-challenge” for all organizations is to find which challenges, if solved and implemented, will create the greatest value.’ Would you talk about this?
Stephen Shapiro: An organization’s ability to figure out which problems if solved would have the greatest impact is probably the single greatest measure of whether an organization will be successful. A lot of times companies spend so much time on things that aren’t relevant.
You’re not looking for solutions. You’re looking for problems and opportunities. It is about relevancy.
If you use the mind-set of focusing on challenges it raises the question of where do you find the key challenges? Obviously you’ll find them in the marketplace, from customers, and also from employees. You don’t ask, “What’s your idea for the next big product?” You ask, “What problems, if solved, would help our customers?” It puts you in the mind-set of challenge-driven innovation, which ultimately becomes customer-driven innovation. It links back to challenges that will help your customers and help you grow your market.