While developmental innovation might focus on solving an existing problem -- radical innovation involves inventing a novel problem.

This way of approaching problems strikes many as absurd – after all, why would one ever want more problems? Aren’t we trying to get rid of problems and live problem-free lives?

But these questions, while seeming quite rational, point to how poorly understood problems are when we think of them only as things to be solved and to be done with.

There are three major problematic assumptions in this way of framing a problem:
1. That the activity of innovation only begins with the development of a solution.
2. Problems disappear when solved.
3. Problems are just there – pregiven and universal.

We tend to jump right to solving problems – without ever inquiring into the construction/conditions of the problem itself. This is certainly something reinforced by our system of schooling – in almost every class, at every moment, students are bombarded with pregiven problems that they are judged on how well and quickly they solve.

But why are we not deliberately pausing to inquire about the nature and construction of the problem? After all “the solution necessarily follows from the complete conditions under which the problem is determined as a problem, from the means and the terms which are employed to pose it.” ~ G. Deleuze.

Further, problems don’t disappear when they are solved – they are creative spaces to be explored – whether the problem is “How do I relate to my gods?” or “What is the square root of x” or “Why does this chair suck?” -- Problems are generative and creatively lead to a field of possible outcomes – that are themselves generative.

What makes a problem worth having is its particular genetic power to produce a field of qualitatively novel outcomes – “what is missed is the internal character of the problem as such, the imperative internal element that decides in the first place its truth or falsity and measures its intrinsic genetic power” (Deleuze)

What's The Problem?
Perhaps the biggest mistake in innovation is that far too often we assume problems are as they are stated. Problems are not a fixed objective quality of reality. They are made. They have a history. We can understand this best by deeply considering what constitutes a problem:

A problem is not just words. Behind the words and their explicit meanings is a necessary world of habits, practices, institutional regularities, tools and environments. These components are not “supporting” the outcome of the concepts, they give rise to the concepts. Our tools shape our concepts— as do our environments, habits, practices, and institutional regularities. This assemblage is a mutually determining interaction dominant system (something the philosopher Michel Foucault called a Dispotif)

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on What Is Innovation, and How to Innovate

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