Build Businesses That Solve Problems You Understand

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.

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Big Ideas Vs. Reactive Ideas

Inspiration comes from many different places. More often than not, it comes from your immediate surroundings or industry. You see or hear something cool that is not quite perfect and needs improvement. You think you can do better. You set off to tell a better story or build a better application. You compete for a variable solution to the same problem. Game changer? Maybe. Life changer? Probably not.

Through the omniscient connectivity of the internet, we all lead fairly informed lives. With all the information available, we tend to react more to what’s outside than what’s inside. Businesses react to the market. Individuals react to circumstances. Inspiration surfs on the wake of trends. What this creates is an iterative marketplace. People spend more time reacting to and interpolating other people’s ideas than reflecting on their own needs or experiences.

Big ideas come from small people facing big problems. We all qualify to tackle big problems if we close our ears and open our minds to draw inspiration from within. Solve large, important human problems – not just little day-to-day problems. Contest the market as-is; strive to create a market of your own. If you can identify immediate competition tackling the same problem, your idea isn’t big enough.

The School of Different

Competition drives innovation. Duh. It sent us to the moon, after all. You can compete in one of two ways: 1) approach a problem from the same angle, trying to execute better than the next guy; or 2) approach the same problem differently. Both tactics have risks. By going head to head with another group wielding similar solutions, you risk falling behind in the race. By approaching a problem differently, there’s a chance your solution may not work at all. That said, there’s always a chance that two groups using similar solutions may fail to solve the problem as well. Two wrongs do not necessarily make a right.

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.