Using Innovation Practices in Everyday Problem Solving

Corinne Miller

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Quick. Think of an innovation, any innovation. What did you come up with? Most people I’ve asked reply with the likes of iPod, Uber, Amazon, or Google – the big disruptive stuff. But the most prevalent innovations are those that can happen every day in our businesses. In fact, I had a stunning moment recently in an innovation session I taught at a local company. For THE first time, after ten years of teaching innovation, when asked to name an innovation, a participant mentioned one from his current employer. Can you believe it? Participants rarely mention an innovation from their own companies. Why is that? We only think about the big, disruptive innovations and we often don’t see the other types as well as our own innovations in the same light. We need to expand our thinking.

Think of innovation in three flavors:

  1. Improving an existing product or service
  2. Expanding an existing product or service
  3. Creating a new product or service

The ones that improve and expand are happening every day and are the ones that provide the ongoing financial support that allows us to explore new growth opportunities. Occasionally, someone will challenge the three flavors, saying that this is diluting the term innovation. It’s not. There’s just a range or a continuum to describe innovations. Just like diamonds, not all innovations are created equal.

Since the “improve and expand” flavors are the most prevalent in the business world, what can we do to improve our approach to these in our everyday efforts? Think of integrating innovation practices into your problem solving processes to take them to the next level. After all, innovation is really problem solving at its heart.

Here are a few simple but powerful techniques you can start incorporating today:

1. We’ve learned about and experienced the value of a problem statement to begin our problem solving efforts. However, don’t stop there. Craft an “innovation-ready” question that represents the essence of the problem statement. Why? A question solicits action in that it begs an answer. Further, an “innovation-ready” question solicits better ideas. Remember when you were told there are no stupid questions. They lied to you. Just kidding, sort of. There are stupid questions. These are the ones that lead us in the wrong direction. For example, say your company is facing high shipping costs, instead of just stating the problem, frame the challenge as a question – “How might people, processes, or technologies reduce or eliminate shipping costs?”

2. Answer your “innovation-ready” questions using idea generation exercises that tap into both the right and left brain. The typical brainstorming exercises, typically involving lists of ideas on a flipchart or post-it notes on the wall, are fine exercises but are seriously insufficient for exploiting all the brain power in your organization. For example, adding in a silent collaboration exercise* and a partner random association technique* will allow both the vocal people as well as the quiet ones to contribute equally and will help in stretching both the right and the left brain.

3. When facing the many ideas that result from your idea generation efforts, how do you know which ones to pursue? After all, we don’t have the time and money to explore each of them. There are three components that are important for selection:

a. An evaluation team of seven to ten who represent various points of view such as strategic, tactical, customer, and so forth.
b. An “innovation-ready” evaluation criteria that reduces hidden agendas and focuses clearly on what it will take to be successful.
c. An evaluation process that leverages right and left brain strengths and incorporates a few of the principles of the 2×2 matrix problem solving approach.

Innovation is a highly complex subject studied by many and conquered by few. It can be overwhelming, especially when a quick “innovation” google results in 499,000,000 hits. Here’s to your inner innovator, your inner problem solver! Have a go at integrating some innovation practices into your everyday problem solving efforts and watch them excel. Feel free to contact me with questions.

*These techniques have been uniquely interpreted by Corinne based on proven theories and principles.


corinneCorinne Miller teaches Communication and Innovation at Lake Forest Graduate School of Management, where she has been awarded Distinguished Faculty Member, Corporate Faculty of the Year, and several Teaching Excellence recognitions throughout the years. Corinne is Founder & Principal Consultant at Innovating Results!  She consults, trains, and coaches on virtual communication, managing a virtual workforce, and innovation. As a continuous learner, with over 10 years in training and 25 years of leadership experience at companies such as Motorola, Rockwell International, Northrop, and TRW, Corinne continuously earns outstanding customer evaluations. Connect with Corinne on Linkedin.


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