Falling In Love With the Problem and Not the Solution

Fall in love with the problem, not the solution.

In May 2017, I was at a product talk and the following was said:

Fall in love with the problem, not the solution.

That quote has stuck with me since.

It’s easy for us to fall in love with the solution, instead of the problem.

  • If you’re a developer, you may be licking your chops to try out a new framework.  The problem is simply a springboard to try one out.
  • If you’re a marketer, you’re imagining all the cool things that you can do with this marketing campaign. The problem is secondary.
  • If you’re a product manager, you’re thinking about all those oh-so-glorious features you can add to your product, and what that means for you and the product.

This happens more often than you think. Source: Pixabay.

It’s easy to fall in love with the solution, and that can lead you astray from the problem.

The solution may be cool, challenging, and fun to build, but what about the problem?

How many companies, products, or projects over the years have gone sideways as a result of teams falling in love with the solution, and not focusing on the problem? How many of them even understood what the problem was? How many companies lost track of what made them great in the first place by building solutions that they fell in love with instead of addressing problems?

To you, the problem might not be very sexy, but the solution sure is!

I remember an  exercise from one of my Management Information Systems classes back in University.

We were in groups of five. Our Professor went around and gave each group lego. Like kids, we all started building. Of course you would…who wouldn’t start building when you have Lego in front of you? After about a minute, the professor  yelled:

“STOP!!!” Don’t you even know what the problem is?

We didn’t. We didn’t care about the problem. We just wanted to play with lego.

This doesn’t just happen in University classes. Even large profitable companies can easily make this mistake.

So, how are you sure that your team is not falling in love with the solution, but instead focusing on (and falling in love with) the problem?

1. Admitting is the first step.

If you and your team are more excited about the cool features that you can add to your product without ever thinking about the problem, now is the time of admittance to guilt. Best to get that out of the way now instead of later.

2. Take a step back. Take a step WAY back.

Step away from the Lego. Take a step away from the computer. Don’t be afraid.

3. Ask your team: “What problem are we trying to solve?”

Can you and your team all agree on the problem that you are trying to solve? Do you have many different ideas of what you think the problem is? We’ve all worked at companies or teams that have had very different ideas of what they thought the problem was. Is your team in the same boat?

4. Fall in love with the problem.

Go talk with your customers. Talk with them some more. Talk with more customers. Keep going. Forget your fancy solution. Perhaps now you’ve identified the problem, and the solution that you need to build isn’t as sexy as you thought, but it addresses the problem. That’s what your customers care about. They don’t care about the framework you used or what you did behind the scenes as long as it addresses their pain points.

In Conclusion:

It’s very easy to fall in love with the solution, and completely forget about the problem.

It’s human nature. You just want to jump in and make your cool solution, but you may very well be ignoring the problem. Focus on the problem, fall in love with that, and let the solution follow.

2017-11-20T14:04:21+00:00

About the Author:

Paul Lopushinsky has been in the Product Management space for the past four years, ranging from co-founding a startup, being the first hired employee at a startup, enterprise SaaS, and product consulting. You can find more of his writing at www.pmpaul.com

3 Comments

  1. kward_nss@hotmail.com March 21, 2018 at 6:43 pm

    Couldn’t agree more!
    I am constantly amazed at how much money investors will pour into cool “innovative” start-ups that are largely technology driven and have a slick pitch about their solution to a perceived problem… with little data to prove it exists, or if it does – that it matters.
    I love the Pragmatic Marketing axiom: “The answer to most of your questions is not in the building”, yet even in large, well established organisations (that should know better) internal SMEs are asked their opinion instead of real customers/potential customers. Product Managers/Product Owners should spend waaaay more time out of the office than seems normal these days.
    One of the teams on the CSPO course I recently attended pitched a really cool “build your own robot” toy that could be programmed from your smart phone. It hit all the right buttons (no pun intended), had great STEM educational messaging… and has already been on sale from LEGO for decades! If it had been real, that would have been one very embarrassed C-suite. It was a cool, innovative solution… to a problem that no longer needed solving at all!

    I perceive the danger to be all the larger in pure software companies, where “because we can” seems to be a good enough reason to add features in many cases. Innovation in a vacuum has become the lazy alternative to seeking real problems people are willing to pay to have solved.
    Are we becoming scared to go and find new problems?

    • Paul Lopushinsky March 22, 2018 at 11:20 am

      Are we scared to go and find new problems? Actual problems, yes. You can look to many companies and products over the last ten years that seemed to create more problems than solved.

      Of course, it’s understandable that people build companies and products that are cool, “innovative” and are investor-friendly. Why build something or tackle a different problem when investors will be more hesitant to invest? It’s much easier to make a tinder-for-x product that will have investors knocking at the door.

      I don’t want to suggest that investors are the sole reason for this lack of new problem solving, but it certainly contributes.

  2. Daniel Godin May 12, 2018 at 8:51 pm

    Have you ever heard of the term “a solution looking for a problem”? I love that phrase, because it describes so many brilliant technical solutions that have very little business value.

    When it comes to deeply technical minded people, especially engineers (I’m guilty of being one at some point in my life), they often confuse technical problems with business problems. It’s a byproduct of being steeped in so much low level information. You can end up with a solution that uses beautifully designed algorithms to solve wonderfully complex technological problems yet adds no tangible value (queue the cryptocurrency critics).

    We need to redefine the meaning of problem so it’s obvious to everyone. My VP of Sales likes to say: “businesses buy for three reasons: to make money, to save money, and to reduce risk”. Or more generally speaking, what is the incremental value to a business or consumer for using your product rather than not using it?

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