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All Life is Problem Solving

Karl Popper, the celebrated Austro-English philosopher of science has famously said, “all life is problem solving.” And problems – and the associated opportunities for problem solving – are everywhere. Not only are they everywhere, but they come in an almost infinite number of forms:  

  • Obvious product or service shortcomings (poor battery life in cell phone/e-cars…)
  • Subtle annoyances and trade-offs typically accepted as inevitable (sawdust from woodworking)
  • Near fundamental scientific/technical limitations (glass breaks)
  • Intermittent, undesirable outcomes of standard practices (concussions from football)
  • Inexplicable extra costs or effort ($13,000 emergency room tab for a one-night stay)
  • Things  nobody thought was a problem until someone solved it (heavy luggage vs. roller bags)
  • Complex, seemingly intractable political, medical, or social problems (opiate addiction, gun violence)
  • Bad habits or social norms (personal hygiene, outmoded/discredited personal behaviors)
  • Black Swans/Acts of God (Hurricanes, earthquakes)
  • And many more…

Problems range from mission-critical to nice-to-have, from the superficial to the fundamental, and from the well-known to the well-hidden. But what’s crucial about problems to innovators is that every problem – whether a process hitch or an extra cost – is an opportunity for innovation. And, of course, every new innovation creates new problems, continuing the cycle!

Perhaps Sir Karl could have said, “all innovation is problem solving." The more costly and annoying the problem, the more the potential for value creation. And if you want to create a really profitable innovation, find an important problem that you only you can solve.