Starting with the solution vs. the problem

Two approaches to technology research: starting with the solution or starting with the problem. Both work, and many academic research groups use a combination. But they’re different ways of thinking. In grad school our group started with a solution (microfluidic technology) and looked for ways to apply it. Sometimes this could get frustrating. You can spend years developing a technology, with no idea if anyone has a use for it.

Across the hall a different group focused on understanding mechanisms of hearing, using whatever means. Following a grass-is-greener logic, in grad school that approach seemed incredibly attractive to me but has its own challenges.

These ideas also apply to startups (or innovation in any company). The ideal is to have a product that meets a demonstrated unmet need, so the solution (technology) and problem (market need) meet in the middle. But if you’re just beginning the innovation process, do you prefer starting with the solution or the problem?