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Businesses are under incredible pressure from constant deadlines and the need to deliver short-term results. Business leaders want immediate outcomes, which creates a culture of ‘doing’. So, when a problem arises, we quickly jump to solution finding, without isolating what the real problem is. If we don’t take the time to dig deep, observe and figure out what’s really going on, then we’ll most likely waste time, money and resources on a solution with minimal impact.

In a recent innovation project, a cross-functional team had been given a challenge by their general manager of the business, which was to deliver a significant innovation to market within 12 months. The team was immediately caught up in the solution they needed to create. They became focused on the outcome rather than spending time identifying the most valuable problem to solve – those that represent the biggest growth drivers.

Instead of asking each team member to first gather facts about the challenge and pinpoint the most valuable problem to solve, they were instructed to go out and find ideas. This idea-led approach is like gathering darts without first working whether darts is the game you’re going to play.

Just like this business, you may be investing resources, effort and money coming up with innovative ideas for ‘business problems’ you don’t really have.

Look before you leap

The answer is to first problem find, not problem solve. The real problem is often that leaders are not spending enough time understanding what their ‘customer problem’ is. Motivation to find and solve customers’ biggest problems (those they often don’t even realise they have) is at the heart of value-creation and innovation.

You need to flip your thinking, your approach to problems, to step into the shoes of your customers. For example, Uber found some glaringly obvious customer problems to solve in the taxi industry – customers never knew how long a taxi would take to show up, and many hated wasting time paying with cash or credit card at the end of the ride.

You need to not only be able to articulate your own business problems, such as falling revenues or portfolio declines, but also your biggest customer problems. The best commercial opportunities often arise at the intersection of a business problem and a customer problem.

Getting curious about finding these interrelated problems is the key to growth and innovation.

Get curious

Curiosity arises when there is a gap between what someone knows, or thinks they know, and what they want to know. That is, when you are curious you are intrinsically motivated to seek out information. Curiosity can be cultivated. It is the fuel for inquiry, learning and discovery – which is why it’s critical for organisational growth and innovation.

When business leaders are curious, they consider how customer needs could change over the coming few years. They assess how all of the current disruptions in the market could feed into one another. They also think about the biggest problems or pressures their organisation is likely to face over the next few years.

Albert Einstein was once asked, ‘If you have one hour to save the world, how would you spend that hour?’ He replied, ‘I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and then five minutes solving it’. Every organisation is busy, but ask yourself are you busy solving the right problems, the most valuable ones?

About the author 

Evette Cordy is an innovation expert, registered psychologist, chief investigator and co-founder at Agents of Spring. She is also author of the book Cultivating Curiosity: How to unearth your most valuable problem to inspire growth. Find out more at agentsofspring.com


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