Innovators Look for Problems

Innovators Look For ProblemsThe fuzzy front end of innovation confronts you with a lot of questions. In my new book ‘Creating innovative Products and Services, I try to solve them with the FORTH innovation method.

When you need to come up with great new products, services or business models, what do you do? I bet you will often start looking for great ideas right away. But in ‘Never start innovation with an idea’, I explained there are three reasons why I advise you not to do this.

  1. An idea makes you blind.
  2. Not invented here: it’s very hard to convince others of your idea.
  3. Only one and a half out of seven new ideas is really introduced.

One of the main reasons innovation is difficult, is that your potential users should change their behaviour. They will have to look for, buy, and use your innovation. And why should they? That’s the question! You will have to give them a strong reason why, and this applies both to consumer as business-to-business markets.

Ask yourself the question: when did I personally change my behaviour recently? We are all stuck into our habits. Doing things in fixed patterns. Even we, innovators do. Reading the same journals for years. Driving the same car brand for years. Being insured by the same company for years. The only reason for us to change is when there is a new simple attractive solution, which is relevant for us. I guess I can make it as simple as that.

Effective innovation is all about matching relevant problems with simple solutions. One can take two routes. The first is to create ideas and solutions and later on try to find target groups with relevant problems that they will solve. Or you can go the other way by identifying relevant problems at target groups first and create ideas and solutions that will solve them later.

But how do you find relevant problems of your target groups in practice? The FORTH innovation method step two ‘Observe and Learn’ is dedicated to find innovation opportunities and concrete customer frictions. You will find them using personal visits, focus groups, web searching social media or crowd sourcing.

I’d like to inspire you with a list of 10 practical problems and innovative new products or services solving them.

Problem Solution
Consultant: I need new assignments. How do I expand my business network in an efficient way? LinkedIn
Music lovers: I love to listen to music (for free) but I hate to be a pirate downloading it illegally. Spotify
Consumer cleaning: I’m sick and tired of a bad performing vacuum cleaner Dyson cyclone vacuum cleaner
Consumer: Is this bed clean and free of bugs I can hardly see? The Bed Bug Detective
Snow boarder: I like to go down hill fast but I am afraid for nasty accidents. The Katal Landing Pad
Consumer painting: If there is one thing that really annoys me, it’s cleaning used brushers and rollers. Dulux PaintPod
Green consumer: I hate spilling water and money flushing a toilet. Brondell Perfect Flush
3rd world: due to flooding we lack clean drinking water. Filtrix Filterpen (changes dirty water into drinking water)
Full time mother: Now the kids are getting bigger, I like to re-enter the workforce, but who is waiting for me out there? Work4Women
Green consumer: I love to celebrate Christmas with a real tree, but don’t like destroying nature. Lease a living Christmas tree

You can download here two free checklists on how to find problems among your target groups. Wishing you lot’s of success looking for problems.

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Gijs van WulfenGijs van Wulfen leads ideation processes and is the founder of the FORTH innovation method. He is the author of Creating Innovative Products & Services, published by Gower.

Gijs van Wulfen




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No Comments

  1. Gregory O'Donnell on April 12, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    Absolutely, problems exist every where in all sort of businesses today.

    Take for example, your largest annual spend after your mortgage is on food at the grocery store.

    And guess what, you give these guys 12-15K per year and you have never met the store manager, he/ she is never on the floor to great any one. This is an opportunity for those that want to steal this 15K annual spend from each and every home by offering much better customer service and a little but of good old fashion “we care” attitude.

    So to your point, look for a problem and innovate in ways that you feel can add value and go for it. Often the innovation is very simple.


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