Businesses exist to solve problems, right? Certainly, this is the heart of the classic entrepreneurial model: you become obsessed with a particular problem, and create a business to solve it. Example: eBay was created by Pierre Omidyar to solve a perceived problem with inefficient markets, and since its inception has generally focused on doing exactly this.
Most enterprises are not blessed by such a coherent focus, at least not for long. More often, organizations – including university research labs as well as for-profit businesses – have a point at which they realize that their challenge has changed, and the problem they thought there were going to solve has shifted or even completely disappeared. The team – often an impressive group of people representing a wide range of capabilities — is then left to figure out what to do.
While disbanding is always an option, it rarely seems to happen, at least volitionally. Businesses, projects, academic enterprises – all are obsessed with their own survival, which rapidly becomes the defining mission. As a result, the organization urgently tries to figure out a way to pivot, a way to apply established resources in a different, useful way as it searches for a purpose to justify its existence. Very often, the question becomes: what should we do – what problem should we solve?