TL:DR If we cared more for the problems we’re trying to solve, rather than jumping to solutions – our solutions eventually would be better. In this day and age – iterating problems to solutions are bypassing stodgy old models of planning years in advance. 

What’s the value of really understanding a problem? In my view it makes all the difference. A fully drawn out solution to the wrong problem is not only costly – it can also be absolutely detrimental to your business.

Understanding problems can be done by intuition or by analysis. Or both.

Let me just for a while make some broad generalisations to set the stage. New businesses tend to function like teenagers. At that age your parents are stupid and advice from seniors is refuted. You go by intuition. Decisions can be erratic, uninformed and hasty.

But you are quite interested in problems. You dwell on them, and you get passionate and exited by them. You want to change and challenge their very existence. And in the best of world’s you don’t mind change, as you are proved wrong.

As you get older you grow wiser. You are not as erratic as before, but your decision-making is on autopilot. New problems are treated as old ones. The same playbook applies, over and over again. And if you’re wrong your instinct is to change the narrative and manipulate the results of what you’re doing – rather than changing the solution. That would require to further examining the objective and the problem that you initially planned to solve.

There is a disconnect here. And quite possibly a cultural problem. The old industry players know the business by heart – and by default has closed the parameters for their analysis. Some things are best left untouched. The young guns on the other hand disregards and rejects everything that is a part of the old school.

The problem is how we deal with problems

Whatever role you fulfil in this disconnected landscape. One thing seems to be true in either camp – we do not care to really and fully understand the problem anymore. One of my favorite quotes ever, for some reasons comes from the great Dan Landin.

”The problem with digital is that they don’t understand analogue”

What it tells me is that you tend to be in a bubble and your analysis is stymied by the fact that you are unable to include the other side in your analysis. You are either incapable of seeing the old structures of the business you’re in, or from the other vantage point, miss the transformation going as digital business models changes and challenges the old.

The solution comes to quickly – and often, and quite likely it’s influenced by dogma and group think.

The late Steve Jobs was a problems person. He was exited by problems – not necessarily, and not primarily by solutions. He also had the very unique quality of understanding, not just technology but people and business, and the persistence to reiterate and try again.

It’s in that intersection and by understanding those different areas that you understand the full gamut of the problem, and then will be able to come up with solutions that work.

“When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there. But if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can oftentimes arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions. Most people just don’t put in the time or energy to get there. We believe that customers are smart, and want objects, which are well thought through.”

Steve Jobs in Newsweek, Oct. 16 2006

These days, most of us are exited by solutions. But solving a problem to quick sometimes mean, you solve the wrong problem. You have to really delve in to the problem before suggestion a solution.

As the fail fast culture grows and develops it’s by and large still a practice for the young guns. The stodgy bastards still makes a hasty estimation of the problem, then plans and executes in a three to five year cycle.

In this regard, I think that in general, business practice suffers from a couple of incredibly huge problems. Not understanding and being willing to analyse and figure out the real problem and, in a too large extent, being led by dogma and old truths instead of a sober and open eyed discussion about the problem. Secondly – not having the willingness to experiment different solutions to the problem at hand.

How did we end up here?

Success in business is fantastic. But the greatest risk any successful firm is confronted with is the risk not being able to change. The success is evidence that no change is needed. However – changes in the world around you, eventually affects you. When the change becomes visible, usually it’s to late. That is what happens when you mix dogma with the culture of “that’s the way it’s always been done”.

Is there a solution?

There might be. Here are some thoughts.

  • Learn to exited by and delve into problems and they where the ultimate source of business opportunity
  • Never accept the first solution as the final and best one.
  • Create a culture of testing and changing.
  • Connect the thinkers with the doers.
  • Make sure the management understand and are exited by problems your organisation is facing.