Having a problem is good. That’s when we start to innovate and create solution.

I recently found out that the most common pitfall that blunder entrepreneurs is: They fall deeply in love with their solution. This is being bias. In science, one of the ways that scientists attempt to overcome this kind of bias is through reasoning from first principles. This can also be applied in business.

With first principles you boil things down to the most fundamental truths…and then reason up from there.
– Elon Musk

Being bias in your own solution is a mistake — not just during idealization, but throughout the innovation life-cycle, often when you least expect it. At each step, some of the most fundamental truths come from a deep understanding of problems before solutions.


The Main Idea
When idea first come to our mind, the solution is what we most clearly see and what we spend most of our energy towards. But most solutions fail — not because we fail to build out our solution, but because we fail to solve a “big enough” problem.

All your initial energy should be channelled towards finding evidence of a problem, not towards acquiring more resources to build out your solution.

So how do you find a “big enough” problem?

Start by recognizing your true values, which will help you recognise your customer. Customers are results or outcome driven. Look for a problem they are trying to solve and study how they are getting it done (existing alternatives).

If the problem is adequately getting solved, that’s not good news for you because it’s hard to replace an existing solution with a similar sounding value proposition. If on the other hand, you find the problem isn’t getting solve “well enough”, that’s great news for you. The obstacles or problems getting in the way of the customer achieving their desired outcome is where you’ll find space for innovation.

This emphasis on problem versus solution was the core mind shift I wanted to get across.

When I read about how entrepreneurs pitch their Business Model Canvases, what I understood is a lot about what they were going to build (value proposition/solution) and a lot about how they were going to deliver it to customers. But I didn’t learn anything about why customers would need or want the solution in the first place, or how you would get them to switch from what they are doing today to your solution.
Having ‘no problems’ in your business model is a problem.

Problem: Most big ideas are too solution-centric.
Solution: Understand the Problem, then create the Solution.


Clear the backlog
Let’s fast forward to launch a product/solution. With lots of customers, will sure come lots of new feature requests. Who do you listen to?

If you are going listen to all your customers, you will be doomed. Even if you listen to just your most valuable customers, you might still end up creating solution that even they don’t use. The reason for this is that most requests are framed as solutions, not problems. And customers are often not good at devising solutions — even to their own problems.

“It’s not the customer’s job to know what they want.”
-Steve Jobs

A better way to prioritize your customer requests is by first understanding the root of the problem they have. Where were they? What were they trying to do? Why?

Problem: Most customer requests are framed as solutions, but customers are often not good solution designers.
Solution: Understand the Problem, then create the Solution.


Avoiding Failure
None of us like to fail but that’s really inevitable and necessary.

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.
-Henry Ford

You may have spent so much time trying to “miss” failure that we fail to realise that: Failing is a necessary pre-condition for breakthrough.

If you run a test and only found out that what you already expected to happen, good, but there was no breakthrough. It is only through the exploration of the unexpected that you achieve breakthrough. The field of science and business alike is riddled with stories of such accidental breakthroughs: Penicillin, X-rays, Microwave, Post-it Notes, Velcro, etc.

Breakthroughs are most often hidden inside failed experiments.

Problem: Running away from failure only delays true breakthrough.
Solution: Love the Problem, Not Your Solution.


The Final Takeaway
Before you go, the final takeaway. We pay a lot of lip service to perseverance and grit, but perseverance and grit will not get to your main solution if you are simply trying to brute-force your solution.
Starting with a solution is like making a key without knowing which door it need to open. You can try testing your key on lots of doors or you can start with a door you want to open. But when you fall in love with the problem, versus your solution, you will start making keys to doors that actually take you places.