Seminar  |  10/10/2018 | 12:00 PM  –  01:30 PM

Brown Bag Seminar: Need-Solution Pairs: A Different Path to Insight and Innovation

Shannon Heald (University of Chicago)

Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition, Munich, Room 313

Advances in science and innovation are traditionally viewed as starting from a question or problem or challenge. We have a problem to solve, a question to answer, and we seek ways to address these. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that some of the most creative and revolutionary solutions and innovations arise by a different process, where solutions did not come by seeking to address a problem. For example, Velcro was invented by de Mestral following an experience with a plant burr that stuck to his clothing. Seeing the mechanism by which the burr clung to fabric suggested a new way to design fasteners. Both the need and the solution were novel to him at the time of his observation and insight. Recent work by von Hippel and von Krogh (2016) has argued that such discoveries may arise from a heretofore unstudied form of solution-finding. They proposed that such discoveries arise without the need for a priori problem-formulation. Instead, a chance observation or encounter prompts an insight that provides a solution which by its recognition identifies the need it satisfies simultaneously. They termed this kind of situation “a need-solution pair.” It will be argued that need-solution pair innovation may be a highly prevalent and creative form of solution-finding that emerges from the natural capacity of perceivers to apprehend (consciously or unconsciously) the functions of objects as part of the natural process of object recognition and understanding. Implications of this unstudied process for models of general solution-finding will be discussed and direction for further research and improved approaches to innovation be offered.

Contact Person: Fabian Gaessler