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Problem Solving Without Problem Formulation: Discovering Need-Solution Pairs in a Laboratory Setting

33 Pages Posted: 21 Jan 2017 Last revised: 8 Feb 2017

Ruth Maria Stock

Darmstadt University of Technology

Eric A. von Hippel

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

Christian Holthaus

Darmstadt University of Technology

Nils Lennart Gillert

Darmstadt University of Technology

Date Written: January 1, 2017

Abstract

Problem solving is a central phenomenon in areas ranging from science and engineering, to how we conduct our everyday lives. If problem solving is often done in a manner fundamentally different from that traditionally assumed, this seems to us to be a matter of both interest and consequence. Recently, von Hippel and von Krogh (2016) proposed that the traditionally-assumed sequence of “first identify a problem and then solve it” may not always hold. It is also possible, they argued, that a need and a responsive solution may be discovered simultaneously as a “need–solution pair” – with no prior identification of a problem being required. If such a procedure exists in practice today or can be developed, they argued, it can have important advantages over “problem-first” solving efforts under some conditions. First, it would remove the often considerable costs associated with problem formulation. Second, it would eliminate the constraints on possible solutions that any problem formulation must inevitably apply.

In this paper, we report on a laboratory experiment designed to explore for the simultaneous discovery of needs and a paired solution by individuals in an “everyday setting.” We found that pattern to be very common – accounting for 73% of all solutions generated under one of three conditions tested. We also found that both the novelty and creativity of solutions discovered via need-solution pair recognition were significantly higher than solutions discovered via the traditionally assumed need-first pattern, and that their general value and utility were as good. On this basis, we suggest that need-solution pair problem solving is likely to be a phenomenon of high practical value as well as of high theoretical interest.

Keywords: Need-Solution Pairs; Problem solving; Innovation; Creativity; Knowledge production; Information transfer costs; Managerial and organizational cognition; Organization and management theory; Information transfer costs

Suggested Citation

Stock, Ruth Maria and von Hippel, Eric A. and Holthaus, Christian and Gillert, Nils Lennart, Problem Solving Without Problem Formulation: Discovering Need-Solution Pairs in a Laboratory Setting (January 1, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2902117 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2902117

Ruth Maria Stock

Darmstadt University of Technology ( email )

Hochschulstr. 1
Darmstadt, Hesse D-64289
Germany

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)

Christian Holthaus

Darmstadt University of Technology ( email )

Universitaets- und Landesbibliothek Darmstadt
Magdalenenstrasse 8
Darmstadt, Hesse D-64289
Germany

Nils Gillert

Darmstadt University of Technology ( email )

Universitaets- und Landesbibliothek Darmstadt
Magdalenenstrasse 8
Darmstadt, Hesse D-64289
Germany

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