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Idea Generation vs. Problem Generation


What is the use of having an idea that does not solve a problem?

Answer: None

That is why “Need is the mother of all inventions”

And overtime all inventions have only ever catered to solving needs. Each new brilliant idea is simply the next tech-savvy step to solving the next tech-savvy problem.

A lot of times we go on and on about creativity, but more often than not, we do not think the whole concept through. Before you read on – come up with a brilliant idea and hold on to it.

So? Did you manage to think of something? Pretty sure you were stumped for that next big idea. This is because coming up with an idea in isolation is usually futile and difficult. It just leads to spiraling confusion. Each idea that someone comes up with is to be of some use it needs focus. As Esther Dyson shares in the Harvard Business Review: “Don’t innovate, solve problems.”

“Don’t innovate, solve problems.”
Esther Dyson – Harvard Business Review

Problems or Problem Generation should not be an undesirable activity. In fact, for budding entrepreneurs, it is an active ground for amazing problem-solving ideas!

“A problem is simply the difference between what one has and what one wants.”

(Edward de Bono)

The Tactics of Problem Solving:

SPEEDing up the process

Study: This should give you a fair idea of the What, Why, & Who parts of the problem. Basically detailing the problem for better understanding.

Possibilities: This tackles the & How part of solving the problem.

Extract: Which ideas to use – which to dispose of and which to try first.

Enhance: Fine-tuning it to the T

Do: Action makes it happen – so what actions must be taken to be able to even start on the process.

SCAMPER to Problem Solve

Created by Bob Eberle, this method is a holistic way of approaching problem-solving and creative thinking. The purpose here is to alter some parts of existing ideas to reach the best possible solution.

  1. Substitute – Replacing a component of your product, concept, or process with another to attain an even better outcome.
  2. Combine – Making a combination of two ideas into a single one for a more effective solution.
  3. Adapt – Adapting to making incremental improvements to the idea and becoming more flexible, to begin with.
  4. Modify – In modifying from a bird’s eye perspective, the overall results have to be improved and not just the idea.
  5. Put to another use – Taking the idea and applying it elsewhere to see its efficacy in other areas of the business.
  6. Eliminate – The elimination technique is quite straightforward: it examines the possible outcomes if one or more parts of the concept were eliminated.
  7. Reverse – This action focuses on reversing the order of interchangeable elements of an idea.

Often enough everyone is only looking for “new ideas” losing out on the opportunity to create incremental improvements to existing ones, which have proven to have a better impact in the long run.

The Importance of Idea Generation

It is basically the process of creating, developing and communicating an idea. New ideas can propel individuals forward. A new idea helps one explore new opportunities.

At an organizational level, being able to generate and collate new ideas from employees is the best way to uncover tacit knowledge. It helps your organization stay relevant and become more efficient over time.

Ideas lead to innovation and are definitely integral to the whole equation as one depends on the other.

The tips and tricks of coming up with effective ideation are something beyond simply brainstorming sessions. Which in spite of popular belief can be quite counterintuitive. Steps like Idea Challenges can bring focus to a pre-defined theme and every one individually share something around it within a timeframe. Pertinently it’s important to define what you want to accomplish with it from the get-go.

Managing ideas

Generating an idea can actually be the easy part. Collating and managing it is a whole other story. Noting them down is not the best way of getting feedback on them, hence, using idea management tools is advised.

An idea management tool serves as the backbone of your idea management process. It’s where you’ll gather the ideas, deliberate over them, appraise and prioritize them, and keep track of their progress, as well as the strategic direction of your ideation activities.

Succeeding at Idea Generation

It is best to follow a few rules of thumb like:

  • Define the problem or opportunity
  • Involve the right people
  • Set constraints


At the end of the day – Problem Generation is what gets you to Idea Generation. It may not be as straightforward as it seems, but it is best to keep these things in mind that the What to Produce, How to Produce, and For Whom to Produce, is pretty much the basic framework within which any ideation should be defined. Otherwise a brilliant idea without action would always lose out on an average idea that solves a pain point.