It is a lot more fun, fulfilling and cost-effective to think your way out of a problem than throw money at it. Try to solve problems first before buying solutions. Take a really thorough, genuine crack at it before giving up and tossing cash away. Moreover, the effort behind solving a problem educates you around the situation and helps you appreciate a purchased solution more when you fail.
Better for you and your customers to tackle problems you have experience with. If you come from nowhere with no expertise in the sandbox you want to play in, you’re at a severe disadvantage because you cannot directly empathize with your customers out of the gate and need to spend that much more time on research to catch up. You’re behind before you begin.
What problems have you suffered in life and have educated theories strong enough to beat them? If you move forward without an underlying passion to solve a personal problem, what then will continue to fuel your fire? How can you possibly stay excited about an idea you have no emotional attachment to – a problem you do not understand?
I’m not telling you not to stretch yourself. And I’m definitely not telling you to skip the research altogether and go for what you know. Understand, however, that jumping into a business blind comes with much higher risk and a harder path to pave. One in ten million people get lucky building something they do not understand and making a business out of it. Press your luck to be the one or press your experience to build something you care about instead.
Most people find it difficult to wipe away a bad day with distractions, substances or other leisurely activities. You cannot cure a disease by treating its symptoms. You must pause, take a deep breath and walk through all the aspects of your day that went astray. More often than not, the seed of a bad day starts very small. Find the source. Did someone say something? Did you sleep too little? Do you feel ill? Have you eaten? I am always surprised how large pain points evolve from very little pain points. When you dissect your woes and discover their simplicity, it makes things easier to solve problems, move forward and look on the bright side of life.
You cannot cure a disease by suppressing its symptoms. A quick fix will not make things better down the road. Do your research, break down the constituent parts and interview everyone involved. Understand why something is happening. Find the when, where, why, who and how. Do not be afraid of the answer. Accept the possibility that the cause of the problem may be yourself or someone close to you. When you find out, solve it. Make big changes. Whatever it takes.
If you need to move something big (like a company, brand, bureaucracy or collective theory), take the mafia approach: chop it up limb for limb so that you can fit the parts in your trunk and move on. As with any complicated problem, you need to break it down into several constituent parts, analyze them and reconfigure them into a package that’s easier to manage. Many smaller problems tangle into larger complex problems if left unchecked. To completely clean up the mess, you need to resolve them all. It takes an analytical mind to separate everything and navigate the labyrinth. Not easy to do. And it takes a lot of time. Sometimes it’s not worth it. Certainly not worth it to butcher a corpse. Some ships need to sink. More often than not, you need to try. Do what you can to break it all down, focus on the details and figure things out.
If you’re having organizational trouble or find yourself doing the same mundane task over and over, chances are pretty high that someone else out there shares your pain. With a little bit of research, you may even find someone who has already conquered your problem. At any rate, it’s worth a look. The internet is a pretty big place these days. There are apps for everything.
As times change, brand new problems crop up all the time that may not yet have structured solutions. Depending on the complexity of your problem and processes, other people’s solutions may not serve your own. If you cannot find a solution, it’s up to you to build one. Given the challenges and material complexity of designing solutions (be they software, logistical or cost), most people opt out and choose to continue suffering. Don’t do that. Don’t settle for the mundane. You should never have to do the same thing more than once – unless you want to.
I am a huge advocate for different. Different gives you a competitive advantage. But I do not think different should be the sole reason to make a decision. Different is branding more so than a core value. Different does not sustain when other people copy you or if you fail. Different should support, qualify or celebrate a decision; it should not be the decision itself.
Clichés exist because they worked before and can work again in certain situations. You should not rule out an opportunity because it feels familiar. Sometimes familiar solutions to a problem can be focused, modernized and differentiated to a competitive place. I’m not saying different is bad. In fact, I encourage different 99% of the time. But you have not made a thorough decision if you support something only because it is different.
Before doing anything else, you should check to make sure your entire team agrees with and can own the mission at hand. It’s very important to make sure that you are on the same page with everyone before embarking on a collaboration. If people diverge in completely different directions, you stretch the project thin and go nowhere. You cannot easily push the cart in one direction if your partner is pulling it in the other. Discuss the mission and agree on the meaning behind the problem you are trying to solve first before setting out to find a solution. If everyone is pushing in the same direction, you may have enough momentum to get the cart out of the mud.
Redundant solutions are a waste of resources, time, and marketplace space. What do you have to gain by trying to do the same thing better than the next guy? The chances that you will make a competitive impression are few and far between. Why not try something different altogether? Identify a problem or need, list the solutions available now, and brainstorm opportunities divergent from (or completely counter-intuitive to) other trends. Sure, you may fail to solve the problem. But you may also outperform the next guy with your unique approach. You’ll never know unless you try.
Remember what Henry Ford said: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Embrace different.
Perhaps education could spend more time teaching students about what not to do. We should impart to students a fundamental understanding of what has been done already, and inspire them to approach things differently.
Through a culture of experimentation and differentiation, we will solve more problems faster and with more certainty.