Using Problems to Source Innovation



Creativity in sales is necessary, but not always easy to understand. It certainly has a place in marketing and product development, but how do sales people think creatively?

I’ve written about several effective methods for bringing new ideas into sales. Last week I wrote about using a simple problem statement, taking it apart word by word, and considering other examples (see example above).

Now it’s time to begin mixing and matching the many fractured pieces of our puzzle. Take the ideas generated by examining parallels and put them together to test their logic and potential application. Combining parallels may not be as difficult as you think. For one thing, our brains are hard-wired to find patterns among seemingly unrelated factors. As humans, our brain is our most vital defense mechanism, and as we evolved it was necessary for our brains to be on constant guard for predators. Hearing a stick break and then watching a lion jump out of the grass are two seemingly isolated events, until you watch one eat your neighbor, and then you identify a really important connection.

Scott Huettel, a Duke University professor and director of the Duke Center for Interdisciplinary Decision Science and the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, has conducted research on the brain’s quest for patterns. According to Huettel, “The human brain really looks for structure in the world. We are set up to find patterns…. It allows us to extract regularity from the world.” The same trait explains why some people are superstitious, says Huettel. If you wear a red hat and your team wins the football game, you might identify a pattern and have a really strong urge to wear a red hat the next time your team plays.

While there’s no evidence that superstitions can influence sports games, this brain adaptation comes in handy when considering innovative ideas. Our brains seek to make sense from unrelated concepts.

Combining parallels is the start of horizontal idea generation. You may be amazed at the ideas you can now easily generate using this technique. Lay out the parallels, and see what new solutions come to mind.


Last week I wrote about taking apart your problem statement, and using it to source new ideas. Contact me at with any questions.

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