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Invention and innovation: An introduction
Invention and innovation: An introduction

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11.2 Step 1 – identification of the problem

The activity of identifying a problem to be solved or a need to be met is a key step for the start of the innovation process. As you saw earlier there's a range of possible starting points. You've already seen examples where curiosity drives people to look for applications of certain scientific or technical principles such as Cockerell and air-cushion transport. Sometimes people identify an unsolved need, such as Percy Shaw and unlit roads. Sometimes people identify a need with an unsatisfactory current solution, such as James Dyson and his dissatisfaction with conventional wheelbarrows.

Another such starting point for invention is identifying possible new uses for existing products or processes. In such cases a key first step is the imagination to appreciate the technological possibilities and the market opportunities. Nowadays many organisations spend time actively seeking out new uses to which existing products and processes might be put as well as problems that need to be solved with new inventions. In the case of the Post-it note the challenge for the 3M company was to find a use for a new type of adhesive – a glue that wasn't very sticky. In this case the ‘problem’ was one of an existing product in search of a market need rather than an established need requiring a new technological solution.