When asked how he would spend his time if he was given an hour to solve a thorny problem, Einstein said he’d spend 55 minutes defining the problem and alternatives and 5 minutes solving it.
You’ve probably used a handy invention called “coffee sleeves” if you’ve ever visited a coffee shop. These insulators make it bearable to hold that super-hot cup of coffee. Jay Sorensen is the inventor of the coffee sleeve. He came up with this idea when he was driving his daughter to school when he spilled a cup of coffee in his lap, because the coffee was too hot to hold.
It’s common wisdom that innovative ideas must be original, new, and a flash of creativity out of the blue. But this belief is a real obstacle to creativity.
Jay Sorensen didn’t create the coffee sleeve because he was setting out to innovative. He needed to solve a problem.
Innovation is not about creating something from nothing.
There are problems everywhere, as long as you pay attention to them. Lots of great inventions come from the daily problems people encounter.
When it’s raining and you don’t want to wear clunky, unfashionable rain boots – but you don’t want to get your feet wet? There go the Dry Steppers. You want to bring a water bottle to work, but the shape of normal water bottles don’t work with your briefcase? Someone came up with the idea of Letter paper shaped bottles.
True breakthroughs happen when you notice problems and create solutions. Problems stimulate you to really think about what can be improved. Observing problems is a good start.
Different Levels of Problems
There are different types of problems. Some are easier to stimulate innovative ideas, some are more difficult. Finding out the type of problem you have identified helps you to know your effort needed to create new ideas.
Type 1: Problems with Good Solutions Available
Difficulty Level: ★★★
Some problems already have good solutions available. For example, in hot and humid climates, people have adjusted to the use of fans and air conditioning. It would take a huge breakthrough in order to think of a solution superior to what’s already available.