Identifying Viable ‘Need-Solution Pairs’: Problem Solving Without Problem Formulation

36 Pages Posted: 17 Nov 2013 Last revised: 2 May 2015

See all articles by Eric A. von Hippel

Eric A. von Hippel

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management

Georg von Krogh

ETH Zurich

Date Written: November 16, 2013

Abstract

Problem-solving research, and formal problem-solving practice as well, begins with the assumption that a problem has been identified or formulated for solving. The problem-solving process then involves a search for a satisfactory or optimal solution to that problem. In contrast, we propose that, in informal problem solving, a need and a solution are often discovered together, and tested for viability as a need-solution pair. For example, one may serendipitously discover a new solution, and assess it to be worth adopting even though the “problem” it would address had not previously been in mind as an object of search -- or even awareness. In such a case, problem identification and formulation if done at all, comes only after the discovery of the need-solution pair.

In this article, we propose the identification of need-solution pairs as an approach to problem solving in which problem formulation is not required. We argue that discovery of viable need-solution pairs without problem formulation may have advantages over problem-initiated problem-solving methods under some conditions. First, it removes the often considerable costs associated with problem formulation. Second, it eliminates the constraints on possible solutions that any problem formulation will inevitably apply. We suggest that this approach merits further investigation.

Keywords: problem formulation, problem solving, need-solution pairs

Suggested Citation

von Hippel, Eric and von Krogh, Georg, Identifying Viable ‘Need-Solution Pairs’: Problem Solving Without Problem Formulation (November 16, 2013). MIT Sloan Research Paper No. 5071-13. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2355735 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2355735

Eric Von Hippel (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management ( email )

E62-455
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States
617-253-7155 (Phone)
617-253-2660 (Fax)

Georg Von Krogh

ETH Zurich ( email )

D-MTEC, SMI, WEV J 411
Weinbergstrasse 56/58
Zurich, 8092
Switzerland
+41 44 632 88 50 (Phone)

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