Innovators Look for Problems

A brand new innovation often requires changing a person’s behavior or habits, which can be a nearly impossible task! So why not approach innovation by looking at existing problems? Gijs van Wulfen looks at 10 practical problems and innovative new products or services solving them.

The 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 advice you not to: 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! 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.

So effective innovation is all about matching relevant problems with simple solutions. So you can take two routes. The first one 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 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 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 problems among your target groups. Wishing you lot’s of success.

About the author:

Gijs van Wulfen (The Netherlands, 1960) is the founder of the FORTH innovation method. FORTH is an effective and structured method for ideating innovative products and services. The method is published in his inspiring and practical book Creating Innovative Products and Services’ (Gower, 2011).

He helps organisations to kick start innovation by facilitating the FORTH innovation method and advising companies on their innovation strategy, process and organisation. His clients are international companies in industry and services, as well as non-profit organisations in government and health. Gijs also trains facilitators in his method. His dream is to make FORTH the most used method for the front end of innovation around the world.

Gijs is a both presenter and chairman at several (international) innovation conferences, like the ISPIM Conferences and the European Conference on Creativity and Innovation. He is also founder of the yearly Dutch Innovation Conference on creating new products: ‘Nieuwe Producten Bedenken’.
  • Milton Kamwendo

    Great article!

  • Gijs van Wulfen

    Thank you Milton for the compliments on my article: Innovators look for problems!

  • Rob

    Great article!  What do you find as the best way of identifying the problems?

  • Gijs van Wulfen

    Dear Rob,

    Thanks for the compliments on my article. There are three good ways of finding customer problems:
    1. individual visits
    2. websearch forums, Facebook,, linkedin or crowdsourcing platforms
    3. organise a focus group.

    You can download 2 checklists here, Rob: 
    http://www.forth-innovation.com/forth-steps/observe-and-learn/

    Gijs

  • islam

    great article. I appreciate it :)
    I’m working as developer and i want to create new application for innovation management. But till now i couldn’t find innovation problem !! any suggestion from ur experiense side ? :) could u write ur email adress for contacts ?!

  • Mathur

    We are trying to license / transfer the innovations developed by individual innovators. Exactly opposite to what you suggest (as here the innovation comes first and its market partner is being searched by us). We are finding it difficult. Is it really impossible.

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