Forget Brainstorming – Use PAINstorming for breakthrough innovation


Most brainstorms fall far short of breakthroughs.  Painstorming provides the focus and insight to leapfrog to the next big thing.

Brainstorming is today’s no-brainer.  Most leaders and organizations preach it and teach it.  It’s about generating lots of ideas, deferring judgment and then – for savvy innovators – using some type of meaningful criteria to winnow down the laundry list.

Here’s the problem: We often don’t realize we’ve got great ideas for a misguided focus until it’s too late.  A Fortune 500 client of mine once said, “We’re great at executing on bad ideas.” Most of us are absolutely awesome at coming up with creative solutions to the wrong problem.  But as the saying goes, “Garbage in, garbage out.”

What’s the solution?  Painstorming.

Painstorming is the process of uncovering pain points to drive breakthrough innovation.

Instead of jumping to solutions, Painstorming uncovers the fundamental drivers of new opportunities.  No more innovating around the fringes of the problem.

Here are the steps:

  1. Person – who’s the specific person or customer you’re innovating for?
  2. Activities – what are the everyday things they do, why, and to what ends?
  3. Insights – what are the processes, tools, or activities that they unnecessarily do or have invented themselves to “work around” the way things are “supposed” to be done?
  4. Needs – what are the biggest pain points that are the root causes of the customers’ problems, unmet needs, or desires? What are the workarounds, things that cause stress or concern, dissatisfaction, or anything else that’s responsible for their “pain”?

Here’s a simple template for plotting pain points (click image to enlarge or click this link to go to the original post and download the PDF or MS Word versions):

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 9.05.57 AM

With this, you’re ready to heal your customers’ pain.  Jump back into brainstorming and generate options for solving individual or multiple pain points through new products, services, processes, and business models.

Painstorming solves one of the biggest pain points in the innovation process itself.

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Fear of Failure is the Big Problem, not Failure ItselfSoren Kaplan is the author of Leapfrogging and a Managing Principal at InnovationPoint LLC where he advises start-ups and also consults to Cisco, Colgate, Disney, Medtronic, Visa, and others larger firms. He led the internal strategy group at HP and is an Adjunct Professor within the Imagineering Academy at NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences in The Netherlands. To learn about the book Leapfrogging or contact Soren visit

Soren Kaplan

Soren Kaplan is a bestselling and award-winning author, a Columnist for Inc. Magazine, a globally recognized keynote speaker, the Founder of, and an Affiliate at the Center for Effective Organizations at USC’s Marshall School of Business. Business Insider and the Thinkers50 have named him one of the world’s top management thought leaders and consultants.




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No Comments

  1. Bob Klein on June 22, 2013 at 7:58 am

    Very well thought out.

  2. Sabrina on June 22, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    Wonderful. I’d like to test it. Thanks

  3. K.Muralidhar Bhat on August 8, 2013 at 5:31 am

    Very nice way of getting in to solution for the challenge

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