Businesses use many techniques to develop innovations.  One approach to innovation development deals with problems experienced in your own business or in your industry.  Problems provide an opportunity for innovation by asking (and answering) five key questions:

  1. What Happened? Identify details regarding the specific problem and determine whether the problem is related to a client, a product, a service, your entire industry, or a problem with your internal business procedures.  Determine exactly what happened, such as dates, locations, people/businesses involved and other relevant details.  These details will be used later to help prevent future problems.
  2. Why Did it Happen? Determine why the problem occurred by evaluating when it happened and why the problem occurred at this time, but has not happened before.  Identify what details were different this time that may have caused the problem.  Determine where in the process the problem occurred and review the “chain of events” that led up to (or caused) the problem.
  3. Lessons Learned to Benefit the Company? What lessons can you apply from the problem to benefit the company by improving your product or strengthening your client relationships?  Prepare a written case study that documents the problem, what happened and how the problem was solved.  This case study will be valuable for handling similar situations in the future.
  4. How to Prevent Future Problems? Conduct a brainstorming session to identify at least two or three things you can do to prevent the problem from happening again in the future.  Look at the causes of the recent problem and the events leading up to the problem.  Identify ways to make changes to procedures and/or systems to avoid future problems, and document these changes.  When looking for ways to prevent the problem from happening again, look to other industries for examples of how those industries solved similar problems.
  5. Evaluate and Refine Changes – OK, this last one is not really a question, but it’s an important part of the innovation process.  Test and evaluate the two or three changes you identified in the brainstorming session.  See which of the changes works best to solve the problem.  Continue by refining one or more of the original changes based on your evaluation to produce the best solution to the problem.

The above process illustrates one example of creating innovation that strengthens your business.  Consider developing an innovation action plan to identify a steady stream of innovations throughout your business using multiple identification techniques.