Strategy is Not the Same as Problem Statement

Innovation teams are more effective when given a clearly defined problem to solve. The solution to the problem may not be known - but it is important to define the problem to a degree of specificity where solution is definitely possible.

Typical statements depicting the strategic objectives of organizations are often very high level and broad based in nature. The mistake many innovation programs do, however, is to confuse these strategic statements with problem statements. For example, a bank had given ‘expanding market footprint in Africa’ as a brief for the innovation program. This clearly was their strategic objective and a perfectly legitimate one at that. However, it is difficult to hand this to an innovation team and ask them to ideate on it. It is too nebulous and high level for them. It was necessary to go through an intermediate step of ‘framing’ the innovation space. In this particular case, we deconstructed this high-level objective into three areas – small local businesses as key members of the financial activities, the impact of advice from local community leaders and elders on banking decisions of individuals, and the safety concerns in some areas, in carrying cash on person. At this stage, it became possible to innovate on them. For example, an innovation team could be given a problem statement – how to expand banking without requiring people to carry cash with them? This is a clearly defined problem statement, which may have multiple solutions – but there is certainty that solution(s) are possible.

Innovation teams are more effective when they are given such clearly defined problems to solve, rather than being asked to innovate against a strategy. Adding ‘Framing’ as a step to the innovation process is therefore a good idea for most innovation programs.