We are natural problem-solvers.

From the moment we’re born, we’re solving problems. 

Hungry?  We wail and cry

Confused at school?  We raise our hands.

Computer not working properly?  We unplug it and plug it back in.

From the moment we enter the workplace, we’re solving problems.

Boss doesn’t want to hear problems?  We bring solutions.

Customers upset about something?  We offer compensation.

Unhappy at work? We find other jobs.

We focus on solutions because it gives us a sense of confidence and control.  In a constantly changing world and where we, in fact, have very little control, solving a problem gives us a momentary reprieve.  It gives us something we can point to and say, “that is better because of me.”

We don’t focus on problems because it is uncomfortable, and it can feel like a failure.  Spending time with a problem means we haven’t solved it and may give others the impression we can’t solve it.

But what if we’re solving the wrong problems?

What if the boss is overwhelmed and burned out and feels unable to take on one more thing?  How will one more solution to one more problem fix that?

What if the customer is upset because they relied on your company’s promise, and now a significant event is ruined because you didn’t deliver?  What compensation will make up for that?

What if you’re unhappy to work because your passion and abilities are in a completely different profession?  How will a new job fix that?

We can’t be confident that we’re solving the real problem if we don’t spend time with a problem, ask questions, and dig until we get past the symptoms and find the root cause.

Innovation is all about solving problems.  The REAL problems.

This is why true innovators start by seeking problems.  They spend weeks if not months asking questions, examining things from multiple angles, building empathy, and never ever ever settling for the first answer offered.

Innovators know that to succeed, they need to fall in love with a problem, not their solution.  And in innovation, just like in life, you need to spend time with something to fall in love with it.  You need to learn about it, understand it, connect with it, and care about it.  Just as you wouldn’t walk up to a complete stranger and propose marriage, you shouldn’t walk up to a problem and propose a solution.

How to find the REAL problems.
  1. Set aside your ego.  Innovation isn’t about you, your business, what you want or need to accomplish.  Your customers don’t care about your problems. They care about their problems. 
  2. Create time for the problem.  As much as we’re tempted to rush to solutions, we’re also pushed to them by our bosses and the pace of business.  But solving the wrong problem puts you even further behind, so set aside 4-6 weeks to ask questions, learn, and find the real problem.
  3. Celebrate not knowing.  It’s ok if you find a problem that you don’t know how to solve.  In fact, it’s great!  Because if you don’t know how to solve it, odds are your competitors don’t know either.  And that means you have a head start on solving a very important problem – the one your customers care about the most.
Being a “natural” isn’t the same as being the best.

We are natural problem solvers, but if we’re not solving the real problems, we’re not the best problem solvers we can be.  And that is a problem that You can solve.