Business comes from solving problems. Innovation comes from solving problems in style—meaning that companies like Apple, Google and 3M
- solve a problem that others have not, will not or cannot solve; or
- they solve it in a cutting-edge manner; or
- their solution is more cost effective and/or more fun.
There are a lot of ways to be innovative with your products. But ultimately, it’s not even about the product. It’s about the problem that the product solves.
Products Solve Problems
In “Small Business Lessons From the World’s 10 Most Innovative Companies” Anita Campbell refers to “Booz & Company’s latest annual study of global innovation” which evaluated “How the Top Innovators Keep Winning.” She highlighted quite a few findings from the report including the four things that all the innovators have in common, which, she notes, are “things a small business can easily do.” I agree. Among those four is the idea that you have to understand your customers.
Respectively, Apple, Google and 3M are the top three innovators in the study (Microsoft is number six) but they are not the only ones making waves. In her article, Anita refers to the top 10 companies and you. Anita says that “these companies innovate by finding unmet customer needs and creating products or services to fill them.” Think about it: In the beginning people didn’t think they needed the iPad—they didn’t even know what it was. But iPad purchasers knew that they wanted a more portable computing experience. Apple solved that problem in the form of an iPad.
Innovators solve relevant problems—and small businesses can too. Whether it’s a business that provides a service or a physical product, it is all about
- identifying the people that you serve (target audience) and the concern that they have (the problem), as well as
- creating the answer to their issue (the product) and
- packaging it in a way that they understand and cannot resist (the marketing).
But this is not the only kind of problem in business.
Experience Comes From Overcoming Problems
You didn’t know then what you know now. And as my father says, some of those lessons come from mentors, and others come from mistakes. In “On Experience, Reflection and Change in Business” John Mariotti highlights the pain and pleasure of acquiring experience. He says, “The worst thing about experience is that you have to live through things to get it and that can sometimes be painful.” On the other had, once you do get it, “no one can take it away from you.” But as John points out, you don’t always grow and change from your experiences.
The situations that make a difference in our businesses are the ones that we understand
- what happened,
- why it happened, and eventually,
- how to change it.
The problems that we learn from and overcome can qualify us to solve our clients’ problems, and that’s business.
Solving Problems Is an Art – and a Skill
In “What Salesmen Can Learn From Saleswomen and Vice Versa” Diane Helbig says, “Prospects aren’t looking for the next latest and greatest idea. They are looking for solutions to problems.”
Every problem has a solution—somewhere, in some form. Medical research is based on that idea—that we can find the answer (given the right environment, the right team, the right resources). According to Diane, your potential customers care about finding solutions to their problems. You are in business if you can solve the problem and communicate it.
Since her article focuses on what men and women can learn from each other in a sales setting, her advice plays to the strengths of each. Diane says that “men almost immediately formulate a solution to a problem when it is presented to them.” Get the answers to people as quickly as you can. She says “women listen intently and then present possible solutions.” Pay attention, because you can’t solve a problem that you don’t understand.
If you meditate on a problem and its solutions long enough, innovation just may show up when you least expect it.