Embody the Problems to Discover Innovation

by Michael Graber

Embody the Problems to Discover Innovation

Much of the work of innovation takes place trying to deeply understand the unmet needs of a particular market. As one Innovation school of thought calls it, what are the “jobs to be done?” Discerning these needs, these undone jobs, takes more empathy than data, more heart than head, and it takes a real investment of time and attention.

To understand the context of the problem means you have to go out into the context—and leave the comforts of the office and go into the field. Take for example a Chemist, a lovely man. He had worked in Skin Care his whole career. He was near retirement when we began working with him on an Eczema platform.

Once we took him into a few houses of eczema sufferers, understood their condition emotionally, looked at their rituals, frustrations, and life chooses firsthand, he said, “I see the value of this method. I wish I had begun every project I have worked on this way.”

Empathy made the problem personal for him, instead of a chemical equation.

This is not an issue of having access to trends, coming up with ideas, or incremental product line extensions.

Firms that offer to help you innovate “better and faster” are playing to corporate fears, but don’t really move the needle.

Innovation is not an intellectual or analytical discipline, despite some trying to turn in into a pseudo-science. Rather, it is a simple matter of feeling deeply, which is why innovation is nearly impossible in some corporate cultures where trust is lacking.

Creating breakthrough solutions for these needs most often means that the innovation team feels the emotional benefits of the payoff. To feel the payoff, you must first genuinely embody the problems.

If this approach sounds oddly visceral that is because it is. What does it mean to embody?

The word goes back to the 1540s. Here is the Dictionary.com definition:

  1. to give a concrete form to; express, personify, or exemplify in concrete form:

to embody an idea in an allegorical painting.

  1. to provide with a body; incarnate; make corporeal:

to embody a spirit.

  1. to collect into or include in a body; organize; incorporate.
  2. to embrace or comprise.

Just as our Chemist friend felt a new type of inspiration by personally embodying the needs and problems of sufferers, so to would your team, regardless of the field.

Without respectfully embodying the problems, you will churn out me-too concepts after me-too concept.

At a time when our landfills are full and the health of our oceans are compromised by filling the world with too much stuff that doesn’t meet a real need, the last thing we need is a new product whose only intent is to make money.

Want to create real value? New value? Embody the problem of your target audience and solve for them.

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Michael GraberMichael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an innovation and strategic growth firm based in Memphis, TN and the author of Going Electric. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.

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