You Have Enough Ideas – Find More Problems


When many corporate managers think about how to increase innovation efforts, the natural inclination is to start with ideas. “We need more ideas,” is a common refrain. A typical corporate manager will speak of needing to discover the “low hanging fruit” to help “move the needle” or even “disrupt the market.” The problem? Most companies do not have a shortage of ideas. The problem often lies in recognition or execution.

Blockbuster did not lack the idea of streaming movies. Rather, they did not recognize the true opportunity and execute upon it. Kodak invented the digital camera but did nothing to adequately market it. The list goes on and on.  

The problem of recognition can happen in several ways. In some cases, new ideas and concepts are rejected because they go against the established competencies of the company as currently configured – this is somewhat true of both Blockbuster and Kodak. Far more likely, however, a company may not recognize the extent that a problem may be addressed through a new idea or concept.

Blockbuster understood that streaming was a superior method for solving the problem of instant gratification – they simply did not recognize the value of that problem. Instead they focused on an approach they considered more lucrative at the time – having a large selection of the latest and greatest titles.

Companies benefit with they have both a comprehensive means of linking concepts to customer needs, and a systematic manner in which to evaluate the relative importance of those needs.  In other words, ideas are the means, but problem solving is the end. If there’s one lesson that we can learn from Kodak and Blockbuster, it’s that an idea is only as “good” as the value of the problem it’s solving.

Greg VanderPol