McGrath: What Problems Need solutions?

The first step towards developing a systematic approach to innovation is to structure its oversight. This means embedding the flow of information about problems to be solved into the overall management scheme This may sound simple, but keep in mind that in corporate culture, not everyone wants to admit that they have a problem. Nor do folks want to be distracted by thinking about other people’s problems.

So the first step here is to build within the firm a system for identifying what types of innovation need attention most. That system can take in information from the bottom up and top down, but at the end of the day, it should create an agenda for innovation.

BTW, this is an activity that most of us would benefit from whether we are responsible for a multi-billion dollar firm or just ourselves. Note that this is different than the “ideas first” approach that Google has made famous recently. At Goolge, staff workers are encouraged to spend 10% of their time on their own projects — regardless of the subject. This produces a lot of ideas, but few are connected to the firm’s needs. “Needs first” systems start from what clients are demanding that the firm cannot yet offer.

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