New problems come from old solutions.

Hi there -

Here is this week’s “1 principle, 2 strategies, and 3 actionable tactics” for running lean…

1 Universal Principle

“New problems come from old solutions.”
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When asked to articulate what’s different and unique about your product, it’s typical to rattle off a bunch of unique features or, better yet, benefits, outcomes, or problems you’re solving with your solution.

However, be wary of the Innovator’s Bias.

If you’re already considering building (or have already built) a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail.

It’s easy to subconsciously invent or fake problems that justify your solution — only to have a rude awakening months down the road when your solution fails to grab the attention of your customers.

The secret to sidestepping this bias isn’t unthinking your solution. That’s impossible. But rather framing your problems differently.

Instead of framing problems as what your solution solves, frame them against what’s broken with your customer’s existing alternatives.

This simple reframing is the basic premise behind the Innovator’s Gift, which serves as the perfect antidote to our Innovator’s Bias.

New problems worth solving come from old solutions.

2 Underlying Strategies at Play

I. Innovation is about causing a switch.

Contrary to common belief, it is far easier to get people to switch to your product from something else than to have them start using your product for a job they’ve never attempted before.

  • Before there was Uber, people were hiring taxis and limos,
  • Before there was Airbnb, people were renting out rooms in hotels and bed and breakfasts,
  • Before there was <name your favorite disruptive product>, there was <some old way> people were using. There’s always an old way.

These existing alternatives are your true competition - not some shiny new startup down the street that no one is using.

II. Contrast creates value.

We are charged with building “better” products, and therein lies the key.

Better is relative.

Unique product differentiation is about creating something different enough that matters to your customers to make them switch.

The best way to do this isn’t by making up new problems they don’t have, don’t know they have, or don’t understand, but by positioning against problems they already know they have and struggle with.

These problems stem from obstacles, pet peeves, and workarounds with existing alternatives.

3 Actionable Tactics

I. Start with your product’s bigger context.

Solutions can typically be used in multiple contexts. In order to build positioning that resonates, you need to home in on specific contexts.

Each context

  • addresses a different job-to-be-done or use case and
  • comes with a different existing alternative set, with
  • corresponding problems (struggles, pet peeves, workarounds).

Start by identifying the top 3 bigger contexts your product could address.

For example, fire (technology) can be used to

  • provide warmth. Bigger context: Heating
  • cook. Bigger context: Food
  • create weapons. Bigger context: Protection

II. Identify popular existing alternatives.

For each context, identify what people currently use to get the job done.

For example, before fire, people

  • kept warm by wearing fur coats and sleeping in caves,
  • only ate raw foods like fruits and berries, and
  • waged wars with swords, spears, and arrows.

III. Articulate what’s broken to define what better means.

Next, articulate what’s broken with these existing alternatives. This opens the door to crafting a compelling, unique value proposition that is different and matters to your customers.

For example,

  • the problem with fur coats is that they are heavy to wear and hard to come by. Wouldn’t it be better to sit around a fire and tell stories versus being cooped up in a dark cave?
  • the problem with eating only raw foods is having a limited food supply. With fire, you can cook previously inedible grains and meat and open up many more food sources to feed the entire tribe.
  • the problem with relying on existing weaponry is that power is derived solely from the size and skill of an army. Fire-based weapons (flaming arrows, cannons, guns) tip the balance of power.

That's all for today. See you next week.




P.S. Love the Problem, Not Your Solution


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