Innovation is Inefficient Problem Solving (even Simon Sinek says so)

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 05-06-20

Innovation is about solving real problems. It does NOT require that you solve the problem in a unique or imaginative way. It really is all about solving problems. To be fair, if you don’t solve it in a unique way, then that innovation might not be a competitive advantage, or protectable IP. But the customer doesn’t care how unique it is, they care how well it solves their problems.

But the best problem solving is not linear. The best problem solving involves learning. It involves experimentation. It involves failure. It involves detours. And none of that is efficient. Listen to this brief video from Simon Sinek for more perspective on the contrast between innovation and efficiency. 

How does this matter to you? Understand the true nature of productivity in your product development (or design, or service creation or innovation) functions. Productivity is output divided by input. If you measure productivity in product development based on the wrong output measure, you will be doomed to a pathway that has you focusing on cutting costs rather than building success. Because “output” for innovation is not about how many units, or SKUs, or features, or documents that you produce. Those are just artifacts. It’s about how many problems you solve, and how well you solve them.

How might you measure that? If you want to see if you’re solving new problems, or solving them better, look at how many new customers you’re signing up versus how many you’re losing to your competition. Maybe you could look at your win rate for discrete wins. Maybe you could look at if you can charge a profit margin greater than the market average. The key is, define success in product development as the result of learning, experimentation, and problem solving, and not as the creation of artifacts. 

And ultimately, if you’re producing more OUTPUT through these metrics, the “efficiency” or productivity of your innovation engine will be going in the right direction. 

Side rant: Completely unrelated to the point or topic, but I can’t leave this example alone. In the video, Simon’s example of the automatic projector screen is a bit misguided. He says the string-pull screens “never broke ever.” What world was he living in? They broke all the time. And when they broke, you didn’t get a quick reset and you were back in service, you were waiting for weeks until someone decided to order a new one. We must have had very different experiences. Rant over.