Don’t you hate it when you are dealing with some critical personal problem that seems to be of gargantuan proportions and your “friend” tells you that it is really an opportunity for you?

That got me to thinking about how so many people approach the process of innovation.  I was with a group recently and we were brainstorming for new product ideas in a particular category.  And I noticed the tendency for most in the group to look for problems associated with those products and try to fix them with a new, improved product.

Limited value

Admittedly, they identified a couple of intriguing ideas by going that direction, ideas that would represent good line-extension opportunities for their business.  I think many people in business go this problem-solving direction for growing their businesses because many people in business are good problem solvers.  Problem solving is a very valuable skill to have in business.  And problem-solving can give you incremental growth.

But in the world of innovation, problem-solving is different from opportunity-finding.

Problem-solving looks at something that already exists and tries to fix it so that it works they way that it should work.  Problem solving is often returning something to its original state; it is the elimination of something (the problem).

Creating new value

Opportunity-finding, on the other hand, doesn’t start with something that already exists.  Its focus is to bring something new into being.  By reconceiving a product/service or the experience of it, the innovator looks to create “new” value that did not previously exist.  Opportunity-finding is creation, not elimination.

–        Starbucks did not fix any problems that existed in the market for coffee, they created a breakthrough opportunity that in turn created (lots of) new value.

–        Amazon did not fix problems in the book retailing world, they created a breakthrough opportunity and (lots of) new value.

–        Apple did not fix problems with MP3 players and cellphones with their iPod and iPhone, they created breakthrough opportunities and (lots of) new value.

Problems and opportunity

So the next time you are looking for growth opportunities for your organization, go ahead and look at solving the problems that exist in your products or marketplace.

But don’t stop there.  Next move your attention to opportunity-finding, by looking to bring something completely new into being.  This approach to innovation will more likely create non-incremental, breakthrough opportunities.  And breakthroughs create (lots of) value to your customers and, in turn, (lots of) value to you.

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