My older sister is a biologist; I fondly call her “my biologic sister.” She does research at Albert Einstein Institute in the Bronx, NY, where she works on finding out a certain cellular behavior that may cause breast cancer. This research, once it provides fruitful results, may lead to a significant leap forward in our understanding of breast cancer, and, hopefully, take us one step closer to finding a cure.
I’m proud of my sister; nearly every day, when I’m doing what I do, and feel as if I’m bringing some value to this world, I stop and tell myself “my sister is working on a cure for cancer.” Now there’s a noble cause.
When working on your venture, many times you’re being asked “what does your product solve that needs solving?” You may notice that many business plans and presentations start with a separate section called “The Problem.” In this section, entrepreneurs are trying to describe an imperfect world, and how their solution makes this world livable again.
Starting off by spelling out a problem that your product is here to solve is, in my opinion, counter productive to the entrepreneurial challenge and thinking process. Here are the three reasons for it:
- It’s Negative. By describing a problem, you paint a sordid picture; it makes you focus on criticism and negative thought, while you should be making an effort to think constructively.
- It’s Argumentative. Even if you find good points that states out real problems, presenting them to others (VCs, partners, customers) creates a debate – even if you do not wish it so. For every point against a subject, one can always find a counterpoint. And believe me – there will always be people around you who will attack those points.
- It limits your thinking. Thinking negatively creates a sort of anti-world in your mind, where the boundaries that need breaking are defined by problems that you identified. When working on creating a solution to a problem, you actually define your solution by the problem. This limits your thinking to the negative aspects of your solution, and sometimes, when the problem has been actually solved by your product, you will find it hard to see beyond the solution. You may find it hard to think beyond the boundaries of the problem you’ve adopted as your identity.
Don't think problem - think value
Indeed, identity is the key word; do you wish to define your solution in negative, argumentative, and limiting terms of a problem? Frankly, most of us are not out there to cure cancer; we try to provide a service, a product that adds value to the world, that opens up new opportunities for people to do things the either couldn’t, found it hard to do, or just didn’t see as worth doing. Your identity as a solution provider should not be defined through problems, but through value.
Value may be the opposite of problem, with the one being positive and the other negative. I suggest you focus on defining the value that your product is out there to deliver. Yet sometimes we are so fixed on thinking negatively, considering problems and their cures that we find it hard to break free.
A good technique to help you clear your head of the problem issue would be to lay out the problems, one by one, starting with the word “No”: “No real tool for searching socks on the web,” or “No common place for people to gather around and discuss Latin proverbs.” After you have purged all the “negativeness” out of you, and released all the frustration you have of this world that has to endure another day without your product, simply replace the “No” with “A”: “A real tool for searching socks on the web,” and “A common place for people to gather around and discuss Latin proverbs.” There’s a value proposition.
A positive approach is better, in my mind, to create a constructive environment with VCs, customers, management or team. Value puts you in a position where you do not solve problems, but create new meaning, a new approach. And isn’t “new” the reason why you have decided to become an entrepreneur in the fist place?