A Transformational Path to New Ideas

Change is hard. And at its core, Innovation is about Change. Think how hard it is to make change in your personal life, now magnify that difficulty by the power of a group or people or an organisation of thousands of individuals!

Key is to resist the temptation to leap to new ideas or to push through ideas without thinking about the underlying problems the idea needs to serve. If you want the commitment of a group to execute the idea then the group needs to travel the journey of understanding the problem facing the business, we call this Problem Revelation, its a kind of psychological shift that happens within each person as they come to see the true nature of the business problem and the risk attached to doing nothing. A kind of aha moment not that different to the idea aha moment often talked and written about.

There are countless examples of seemingly excellent ideas to age old problems which in the long run have little or no impact on the problem.
“Successful [strategy] requires finding the right solution to the right problem. We fail more often because we solve the wrong problem than because we get the wrong solution to the right problem.” says Russell Ackoff.

Take the age old problem of discouraging young people from taking up smoking or trying to mature smokers to quit. Have any of the billions of dollars poured into National Anti-Smoking Campaigns worked? It does not seem like it. Young people continue to take up smoking despite these campaigns.

In Singapore for example statistics show that Social influencers play a part in a youth’s uptake of smoking: more than 50% of smokers had at least one parent who smoked. Similarly, 38% of smokers had at least one sibling who smoked and 90% had at least one close friend who smoked. So why then are the efforts to discourage smoking so obsessed with the health effects of smoking and not the obvious problem area of the social acceptance of smoking?

Some tips for Nailing the Problem:

1. See your Problem Domain (category or industry) through Human Eyes

” The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in seeing with new eyes” (Marcel Proust).

The closer you are to a problem the more difficult it is to see it from a new angle. One tool to help with this is Consumer Experience Mapping, where we walk in the consumers shoes as they navigate our category. It helps us uncover hidden pain or confusion within the category, this insight helps to illuminate innovation opportunities. For example a Consumer Experience Mapping exercise in the paint category reveals the pain point of  colour selection for the consumer, so ideas targetted at helping the consumer visualise colour are required.

2. Make the Complex Simple –

When we use words to describe a problem we  piece together old thoughts on the problem and often don’t bring a new understanding to the problem. Distilling or simplifying information helps to create clarity, as Hans Hofmann put it: “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak”

I find it best to avoid words all together and rely on visual metaphors so that the necessary may speak. Visuals tap into a part of the brain we rarely use in a business context, I believe this is the true power visuals.

Here are several individual perspectives on a corporate culture problem from one of my Workshops:

Problem Visualised

Once the Problem Revelation or Problem Aha Moment occurs, then the group not only gives its tacit approval for a change in direction, they are filled with the fuel required for the long and bumpy ride ahead of taking an idea to market.