The Problem with Problems

Problems, we all have them.  Everyone everywhere around the world from the largest organization to the hungry toddler has problems.  You can’t get away from them and everyone’s problems are different.  But don’t fret, this is great news!  Where there’s a problem there’s a solution; and when the solution doesn’t exist or is inadequate there’s room for a breakthrough innovation.

innovate and problem solve

Where we trip over ourselves and hamper our ability to innovate is when we assume we know what our customer’s problem is.  We use our own knowledge and experience to make a guess at what the issues are the customer faces.  Sometimes we get it right or get close enough to what it is but more often than not we’re way off.  To demonstrate this let’s walk through a simple example; let’s say we want to innovate on high school lunches provided by the school.  Most people reading this will approach this problem from a parent stand point and the problem will be that the lunches don’t have enough healthy options.  But take a moment to consider other perspectives could be, the student’s problem is the lunch tastes terrible, to the lunch staff the food takes too long to prepare, for the janitorial staff the food creates too much of a mess, the teachers don’t really see it as a problem because they pack their own lunch, and the administration has the problem that the food costs too much.  Even in such a simple example we get wildly different problems depending on who we ask.  If we were to assume nutrition was everyone’s problem and create an idea to solely solve that problem it could fall flat as no one sees the value in it.

The solution to this is quick, simple, and easy, as you’re coming up with something new, talk to your customer and survey them.  Bring them 5, 10, 15 different problems and ask them their opinion on each of the problems.  By doing this you can get a solid understanding of what issues actually hit home the most for the customer and make sure you’re solving the right thing.  Even in really leap out there innovation it’s important to understand what your customer’s problem is.  However, you don’t necessarily want to listen to them on how to solve that problem; most of the time they can’t even imagine what a radically different solution could be.