Problems Are What Must Be Invented

Two girls inventing problems

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 sounding 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.

One: 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).

Two: 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.

Three: 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 of falsity and measures its intrinsic genetic power” (Deleuze)

in dialogue with inventing a problem

Classically it is often assumed that truth and falsehood only concerns the solution to a problem – e.g. does this solution actually solve the problem? Or, is the correct answer (e.g. is the true answer to 2 plus 2, four?).

And because of this it is assumed that the critical criteria to judge a problem is if it is solvable or not.

“It is maintained that the truth of a problem consists only in the possibility that it recieve a solution. The new form of illusion… comes this time from the fact that the form of the problem is modeled upon the form of possibility of propositions.” (Deleuze)

These two assumptions mean that (1) we do not really consider the construction of the problem – we begin thinking only with search for solutions/answers – and we begin the search for the truth only in answers. And (2) we judge the truth of a problem in advance based upon a set of pre-existing propositions (opinions, theorems, equations, hypotheses, judgements etc) – and an evaluation of its purported solvability.

But thinking needs to begin with the actual development of the problem – again, here, Deleuze is quite insightful:

“a solution always has the truth it deserves according to the problem to which it is in response, and the problem always has the solution it deserves in proportion to its own truth and falsity.”

The truth of a problem lies in its internal character – its genetic quality – its creative power – the problem generates the conditions of its solvability:

“The only way to talk of “true and false problems” seriously is in terms of a production of the true and false by means of problems… “solvability” must depend on an internal characteristic: it must be determined by the conditions of the problem, engendered in and by the problem… Without this… the Copernican Revolution amounts to nothing.”

Creativity begins in the development of novel problems worth having for worlds worth making...

(Deleuze – Note: this is all from Difference & Repetition chapter 3 – a critical text in developing a creative alternative approach to problems).

Additional Reading on Problems and Problem Invention

Innovation is Hard

You know you need to innovate,
but no one shows you how- till now

The Innovation Design Approach is leadership's blueprint for organizational innovation. Detailing the why and how to innovate across inter-disciplinary teams using approaches, tools, and practices.