Thursday, November 5, 2009

For Sharper Innovation, Focus Not on Ideas But on Unmet Needs

In response to a recent BusinessWeek article on generating creative ideas ("How to Produce Big Ideas on Demand"), one commenter, Larry McDonald, made a valuable albeit overstated observation about the problem with idea generation per se:
Ideas are the kiss of death, sadly. The fastest way to fail is to have ideas, instead of looking for unmet needs. If you must have ideas, the most critical issue is what you choose to have ideas about. Picking the right subject to innovate around should be half the task. Once you know the target of opportunity, only then think of solutions.

Ideas on their own can be a problem. They can distract and turn our focus away from the real needs in the marketplace. Too many inventions and patents represent clever concepts in search of a problem. Without being tied to meaningful unmet needs, the idea or invention, no matter how clever and interesting, is unlikely to become an innovation--something that changes the way people do things. The place to begin is not with lots of random ideas, but with understanding what people need and what problems they are facing, even if they can't recognize and express that problem.

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