Opening up the solution space.

One of the key tenets of innovation engineering is to always ask “why?” as a way of opening up the solution space when trying to solve a problem.

The classic (somewhat silly) example is that if a client asks you to build a bridge, then the possible solutions include a suspension bridge, cantilever bridge, etc. But if you ask the client why they need a bridge and they answer “to get to the other side” then that opens up a whole range of other solutions, including boats, etc. And then if you ask why they need to get to the other side and they answer “to get a message to someone” then that opens up a whole range of other possible ways to solve the problem.

At the European Innovation Academy last week, one of my teams was working on the idea to build a software engine that could be used by a bank for gathering social media data about an applicant as part of the loan underwriting process.

But the more they looked into the issue the more they realized that there was actually a bigger problem they wanted to solve: helping consumers to clean up their social media profiles, because banks, insurance companies, and employers are increasingly using those to make lending, insurance, and hiring decisions.

So they completely changed their business model and developed RepClean – a new online service to help consumers find and remove social media content that could result in being turned down for a job, a loan, or insurance.

It’s a great example of how, when creating innovative new products and services, asking “why?” may open up the solution space (and result in higher-impact innovation).

Here’s a picture of the awesome RepClean team at the European Innovation Academy last week! (photo credit: Liisi Sepp).