Section 9: Problem Solving Methods

von Hippel, Eric, and Georg von Krogh (2016) “Identifying viable ‘need-solution pairs’:Problem solving without problem formulation” Organization Science

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.
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. 

Stock, Ruth, Eric von Hippel, Christian Holthaus, and Lennart Gillert (2017) “Problem solving without problem formulation: Documenting need-solution pairs in a laboratory setting.”

Abstract It has been hypothesized by von Hippel and von Krogh (2016) that problem solving often occurs via the simultaneous recognition of both a need and a responsive solution – without prior formulation of a problem being required.   In this paper, we conduct a first test of the von Hippel and von Krogh hypothesis via a laboratory experiment. We find our subjects do frequently engage in need-solution pair problem solving even when not requested to, and that a high fraction of the solutions they report follow the need-solution pair pattern. In Condition 1 in the experiment where no problem or solving activity was suggested, 73% of the solutions were of the need-solution pair problem-solving pattern; in the progressively tighter Conditions 2 (broad solving task specified) and 3 (narrow solving task specified), the frequency of NSPs totaled 56% and 37% respectively: the hypothesis is confirmed. We also find that both the novelty and creativity of solutions discovered via need-solution pair recognition are significantly higher than solutions discovered via the traditionally assumed need-first pattern, and that their general value and utility are as good or better. 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.