At the centre of every significant innovation is a creative idea. Yet we shouldn’t confuse a great idea with where it came from. Truly useful ideas rarely arise from fancy techniques like hackathons or innovation sprints. The most impactful ideas actually come in response to the identification of an important problem.
Take Sebastian Thrun, the founder of Google’s innovation lab called “X”, who asked the question: How can we end road fatalities? This resulted in X exploring and developing self-drive cars. This was not a bright-eyed idea or a project to design a better functioning car. No, Google’s self-driving cars are designed to address the very real and important problem of serious motor vehicle accidents.
Our research findings reveal that the most innovative firms are not necessarily the best at idea creation. Rather, what makes them special is their uncompromisingly assertiveness in their quest to discover problems to solve.
Rather than focusing on innovative ideas — which is where most innovation programmes run out of steam — the most effective way to embed a culture of innovation is to focus on being uncompromisingly assertive in unearthing meaningful problems to solve. The idea part then becomes easy.