At the center of every significant innovation is always an idea but it is also important where it came from. Truly useful ideas don’t arise from out of the ether or through fancy techniques like brainstorming or divergent thinking. The best ideas come in response to an important problem and thrive under constraints. Don’t Look Great Idea, Look Good Problem
If you want to create a truly innovative culture you shouldn’t glorify ideas, but problems.
Every age comes with its own unique problems. For the past 20 or 30 years, we’ve mostly been occupied with finding new applications for technologies built in the 50s and 60s, like microchips, relational databases and the Internet. That effort spawned entirely new industries, such as personal computers, enterprise software and e-commerce.
Yet today, many of those old paradigms are running out of steam. Open software has created the need for updated database structures and the Internet has proven to be dangerously insecure. Solving each of these problems will create fantastic new opportunities. In some cases, entirely new industries will be created.
Anyone who takes even a casual look at the future can’t help but be bewildered. These days, even teenagers can build websites and smartphone apps. That presents a dilemma for business leaders: How can you plan for a future you can’t predict? The truth is that it’s more important to explore than predict. To create anything that is truly pathbreaking, you need to look for it in new places.
Moving From Strategic Planning To Innovation Planning
Management in the 20th century was, in large part, the art of strategic planning. You gathered information about markets, competitors and other trends and then planned accordingly. Strategy was like a game of chess. You planned each move in response to a changing board and in anticipation of competitors moves.
Yet today, technology cycles move faster than planning cycles ever could, so we need to take a more Bayesian approach to strategy. Instead of trying to get every move right — which is impossible in today’s environment — we need to try to become less wrong over time. Essentially, we need to treat strategy like a role playing game, taking quests that earn us experience and artifacts along the way.
That means that we will need to plan differently. In addition to strategic planning, or planning based on things we know or think we know, we need to start innovation planning, or planning based on things we need to learn to solve new and important problems. That’s how you quest. You don’t plan the journey as much as you prepare for it.
And that’s what makes ideas like those of Birdseye, Schwab and Jobs so great. They solved important problems that people cared about. So if you want to innovate, don’t look for a great idea, look for a good problem.