How writing will make you a better innovator

by | Sep 26, 2023 | Innovation

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Innovation is about finding new solutions to important problems. Given this, it might seem obvious that you should take the time to deeply understand the problem you are trying to solve. It was clearly something that Albert Einstein thought was important:

“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” – Albert Einstein

However, most people I coach don’t spend enough time understanding the problem they want to solve, innovatively.

Instead, they want to rush into an ideation workshop to find solutions. Perhaps this stems from the problematic business mantra of “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions”, or a desire to push forward fast and appear to be making progress. This approach typically leads to a waste of resources as any solution is not targeting the real problem.

Spending time exploring what the real problem is can be uncomfortable; You sit in a state of uncertainty, requiring intense curiosity and humility to ask questions that may reveal your lack of understanding of something in the organisation. It’s safer, and less damaging to the ego to rush forward to solutions.

However, if you don’t spend time to get clear on the problem, you will likely end up with something that is ambiguous. In addition, this all gets worse when you go into solution mode. If you are not 100% clear on the problem, how do you prioritise all those ideas from your ideation workshop to find the best solutions? It just gets very messy in a soup of ambiguity.

How can you better understand the problem you want to solve, innovatively?

Write it down.

When I’m coaching people, I always ask them to write down the problem they are trying to solve.

Writing is important because:

    • Writing drives clarity: Writing is more than words on a page, it’s a process. The act of writing down your problem forces you to choose specific words that will best express it, in the simplest way possible. In the same way as I’ve written this article, I’ve tried to choose specific words and then edited; changing words multiple times in the pursuit of trying to communicate my message in the simplest way I can. This process has helped me get clearer on my message. This process drives mental clarity.

It seems that Albert Einstein would also agree here:

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Albert Einstein

    • Writing gets people aligned: Most problems that organisations face can’t be solved by a single person. They often require multiple people to be involved at different steps of the innovation process, and key stakeholders need to be informed along the way. When the problem is written down, you have something concrete that people can point to and agree or disagree with. (By the way, one of my sneaky tricks when working with less engaged people is to write something about the problem that is incorrect to see if they will disagree or correct it!)

Whilst I’ve focused here on problems, the same is true for the solution. Writing down problems and solutions is key to driving clarity and getting people aligned.

To help achieve this, I create templates that consist of questions that act as prompts to get people thinking deeply about problems and solutions and be able to communicate with others.

Need help with driving clarity and getting people aligned on the problems you seek to innovate on, or their solutions? Contact us.

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