Horizon SciTech — Innovation, strategy and funding for technology businesses

Identifying problems

Problems are numerous and can be found everywhere

Innovative thinkers are people who see problems to be solved everywhere and often quickly come up with potential solutions quickly. Whilst this is strength (seeing things very clearly), it is also a weakness (over simplifying complex issues). Therefore, it is a good idea to have a robust method for identifying the “right” problems to solve.

At the Harvard i-lab, Michael Stok talks about 4U-compliant problems. These are things that potential customers see as (a) Unworkable, (b) Unavoidable, (c) Urgent and (d) Underserved (Unmet need). Tools like this are a good way to test the initial hypothesis that the problem being solved is important enough.

The 4U test could be used in conjunction with or parallel to the 5 whys. 5 whys is an iterative technique that can be useful to stress test the problem thoroughly before moving through the innovation cycle. It is also a good way to make sure the process does not move on too quickly from the initial hypothesis without a robust evidence base from which to build.

The important thing is to experiment with tools like these to see if they work for you before starting to use them in a live situation. Things can get out of hand quite quickly if teams don’t have access to the right tools and the training required to use them.

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