Love the problem, not the solution!

I wager we all had that one school project in which we struggled more than usual. Many factors could be obstructing the way, but somehow we managed to make it work. For me there was a time in which a week before handing in a final project, I received a call from by best friend telling me: “Don’t panic, but I’m thinking about changing the whole idea… report, pitch, everything!… Including the prototype.” Obviously I panicked! Haha. We had limited amount of time to make an outstanding project involving additive and subtractive manufacture, electronics, and programming.

Although our initial idea was almost fully developed, we knew it was time to let it go. Instead, we decided to look to a different direction since we discover that the previous solution we were proposing was unfeasible, and wasn’t an approach that added value according to the project’s requirements. Redirecting was the key to have a successful prototype, and 3 years after, people still come to us amazed by the risk we took and the great outcome we fulfill in less than a week.

Figure 1. Totogi Prototype

So here’s Totogi! An illuminated lamp inspired by the famous Luxo Jr. (PIXAR’s lamp), controlled via Bluetooth with a mobile. Even though this is a conceptual prototype, the idea was to ease the lamp’s handling for people with disabilities. We went from sketches to a physical prototype in a blink of an eye just to explain our idea after integrating different applications.

Totogi was only a school project, but there are lots of cases in which stubbornness interferes when innovating. Remember that all the initial energy should be channeled towards finding evidence of a problem able to be monetized, not towards acquiring more resources to build out your dreamed solution.

I bet you can remember a few examples of products or services that have had a recent boom in the market. This can be caused by the curiosity they awaken in people or their actual potential to satisfy any of their possible needs. Their success in the first months is great milestone. Unfortunately, the real exploitation is achieved when getting to the plateau as shown in Figure 2. The big question is how to get there if we stick to the solution while leaving the problem aside? That’s almost impossible.

Figure 2. Hype Cycle

Learning to love the problem

  1. Take the time to fully understand your customer’s needs
    Many methodologies start with an empathize or define stage. It might sound silly or nonsense, but I could tell is one of the most important phases when innovating. This is the opportunity to identify the perfect spot to plant the seed needed to grow a tree.
  2. Be open and make the most from all the insights you get
    Try to have as many touch points as possible with your client. Learn to hear important information you could get to enhance your idea while pairing it with the guidance to solve the problem. Don’t be afraid to iterate.
  3. Link the potential value proposition with its effect on the problem
    Customers are the one who need to perceive the value in your product or service. At the end of the day, THEY are the ones who will buy and consume it. You can achieve this while deepening in the problem. Answers will start to pop and it will become easier to develop a differentiated solution.

Remember that not because a product is on its peak, means that it’s a strong innovation. It still has a way to go through the hype cycle. I’m 99.9% sure that most of the ones who hang and stay on the disillusionment stage, it’s because the solution had more weight than the problem during its development. So believe me, there are way too more advantages when choosing to love the problem, and not the solution!