Working Paper | 2013

Found in Translation: Decoupling Problem Formulation from Problem Solving and Opening the Solution Space

by Hila Lifshitz - Assaf


We have long believed that the way a problem is formulated is crucial to the way it is solved, and that innovative solutions often stem from reframing the problem. However, since problem formulation and problem solving are two intertwined phases that have been all but impossible to tease apart, our knowledge of problem formulation proper has hardly advanced in the last few decades. Recently, a new setting, namely open and distributed innovation, has allowed us to shed light on the problem formulation process and its impact on problem solving. This new model, in a clear juxtaposition to the standard one, suggests a distribution of the innovation process by decoupling the problem formulation process from the problem solving one. Little is known of these processes and how they are different from the traditional coupled problem formulation and solving process. This paper explores the process that strategic R&D problems at NASA went through in both the coupled standard innovation process and the decoupled distributed one. I find a new process of "cross boundary problem formulation" that emerged in the decoupled model when R&D organizational members aimed to broaden the solution space outside their usual knowledge boundaries, to other disciplines and professions. Problems that went through cross boundary problem formulation had more successful solutions. Furthermore R&D members described the new process as the most important capability developed from their experiment with open and distributed innovation. This paper suggests a theoretical model of the cross boundary problem formulation process and implications on innovation.

Keywords: problem solving; problem formulation; knowledge theory of the firm; distant search; cognitive diversity; Problems and Challenges; Innovation and Invention; Cognition and Thinking;


Lifshitz - Assaf, Hila. "Found in Translation: Decoupling Problem Formulation from Problem Solving and Opening the Solution Space." Working Paper, August 2013.