From Problems to Jobs

Einstein is famously quoted for saying, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking of the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” While inspirational quotes like these provide holistic guidance as to how you should approach various aspects of life (in this case problem solving), they lack actionable how-tos.

“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking of the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” – Einstein (a smart guy)

Problem-solving is instrumental when innovating. You’re like a detective trying to understand the context of the situation and all of the variables that come into play – all while making sure you don’t smear the scene with your own biases. You want to interview customers and shadow them without interfering with their normal activity. You want to avoid leading them to your solution through the questions you ask. This can get tricky, which is why we need tools that will constrain us towards a specific path that eliminates this bias on our part as innovators.

Whenever I approach an issue, I always start with a tweaked version of The Lotus Blossom Technique. This is a great starting point because it’s devoid of any ideation or complexities on the part of the tool. The Lotus Blossom Technique provides an overview of a problem space. After you’re done filling it in, you have a better idea of the different aspects of a product and all the problems that are linked to it. Upon completion, you’re left with your top 3 or 4 problems. You might think that the next step is proceeding with ideation. Proposing solutions seems like the obvious next step. You might’ve even been overpowered by your brain that is wired to think of solutions while completing The Lotus Blossom. However, there is a critical step before ideating where we convert problems into Job Statements.

A “job” is the reason people buy products or services. For example, If my “job” is to cut the grass, I might buy a lawnmower (the product) to complete the task. However, reframing that job statement unlocks many solutions. If we rephrase “cut the grass” to “keep my grass low and beautiful at all times”, then you might buy genetically advanced seeds that don’t grow beyond a specific height. Notice how you don’t need the lawnmower in this case. Properly phrasing a “job statement” leads to potentially innovative solutions. Another job statement could be to enhance my vision. The solutions include eyeglasses, contact lenses or even Lasik eye surgery. Jobs can be functional, emotional or social. An emotional job could be to recover from a breakup with your boyfriend or girlfriend. To complete this job, you might “hire” a pint of ice cream and a movie, a new puppy or even another soulmate to replace the old one (if that’s your thing). Notice how the solutions that are competing with each other aren’t necessarily from the same category (food item, pet, and human in the previous category).

Right. Now, after you’ve completed The Lotus Blossom Technique, you’d want to unearth the job that the customer is trying to complete when faced with the problems that you’ve uncovered. Think of problems as “triggers” that should get you thinking about jobs. When you hear someone complaining about something (problem), try to understand what he or she is trying to accomplish. Understand the roadblock they’re facing. Dig deeper after you’ve phrased the first job statement. People don’t want a hammer. They want quarter-inch holes. Properly phrasing a job statement will open up a multitude of creative solutions in the ideation phase.

Let’s use Taobla, a modular tray table I’m developing, as an example. I started facing multiple problems like hunching forward to eat while watching TV, having to pause Netflix to clean the glass top of my coffee table after I’m done with my meal, and spilling various sauces on my carpet. Those are all problems (triggers). These problems would be uncovered when completing The Lotus Blossom. After that, we want to phrase our job statement. I faced all these problems when trying to watch TV and eating at the same time. This would be my job statement. It’s under the umbrella of modern-day multitasking. After we have our job statement and the set of problems that accompany it, we then move on to sizing up the opportunity by testing different parameters related to the problems we’ve uncovered.

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