Innovation and the role of problem formulation: capitalizing on the potential of collective intellect for value creation
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The fundamental research question of this dissertation is: “How does problem formulation engender innovation, and what processes lead to formulating problems such that innovative solutions thrive?” A basic premise underlying this research question is that how we interpret the stimuli that drives action—how we formulate problems, opportunities, unmet needs or desires—determines the actions that we take, and that the actions that we take today shape our future and define who we are in that future. This is as true for an individual as it is for an organization or for society in general. Our interpretations, however, have limitations due to various biases and constraints that arise from assumptions that are shaped by both experience and lore, and tend to give primacy to the status quo. All knowledge is therefore derived from and based on these assumptions, that although are certainly useful when it comes to solving well defined problems of an unambiguous nature, they can be hindrances in the context of novelty. In this dissertation, problem formulation is conceptualized as a team level mechanism to overcome these hindrances. By studying various facets of this phenomena, empirically and conceptually, this dissertation aims to (1) clarify how and why it unfolds, (2) make explicit what it entails relative to specific boundary conditions, and (3) measure its significance to innovative outcomes. The primary implication of the findings contained in this dissertation is that how we formulate problems holds the promise of increasing the odds of success by engendering innovative solutions. In addition, in the context of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, problem formulation—as characterized by forward-looking, open and dialectic dialogue, where assumptions are surfaced, challenged, and revised—must be a deliberate practice. Finally, although certainly effortful (costly and arduous), problem formulation also holds the promise of instigating the transcendence of our own expectations by serving as a mechanism for tapping into the underexploited collective intellect of people. When the benefit to society is concerned, it is my belief that this resource is well worth the effort and cost of accessing it.