Many businesses are built with a focus on a problem. And many entrepreneurs start their journey knowing precisely what problem they want to tackle. These are the pitches we end up seeing on shows like Shark Tank, and messages printed on products that we buy at Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond. Fine. Nothing wrong with that. Except, the problem those businesses are promising to solve are not the real problems that matter. A problem-focused mind is different from a mind that is obsessed with understanding a very real problem and is working towards solving it.
Most companies have a very superficial notion of the reason why they are even in business (which makes everything about them pretty unstable). To illustrate this, I would like to refer to the movies. Every movie we’ve watched is about someone facing a problem and their odds against solving it. Every movie has a main character that goes on a journey to solve that problem, and along the way we see that the problem is actually not what the main character originally thought it was. The movies actually educate us on the fact that behind the perceived problem lies the real problem. And there lies our real world problem: businessowners work hard at solving perceived problems, when the real problems are much deeper set and often remain ignored.
Do you think people get plastic surgery because their problem is fear of looking older? Think again. Their real problem, the one that hides behind their “aging face”, is a lack of self confidence and acceptance of one’s self. Only a few entrepreneurs address this very real problem. And those few are in a comfortable position because there is very little competition in their market (the market of creating confidence vs. injecting botox over a lunch break).
Whenever we dump our so-called solution on our customers, we need to ask ourselves: am I actually creating value by offering betterment, or am I pretending to solve a problem that is superficial in nature while perpetuating the underlying issue?
Mind you, if you go out and ask people what they want, their answers will be something like this: tons of money, not to work ever again, an expensive car or home, a cure for their perceived pain… People want cheaper flight tickets, faster cars, cosmetic surgery, all of that. But that is not what we should give them. If you investigate deeper and find out what people NEED, you will discover the real underlying problems and they almost always involve dissatisfaction with themselves, their lives or their work in some way, shape or form. This is where you, the business owner, the guide, can apply your magic and bring your value: A solution to the REAL problem.
The 2005 film “War of the Worlds,” makes it seem like the real problem we are facing is an alien invasion. But as the movie progresses, it becomes clear that what is really the problem is our dividedness and how we are unwilling to open up to be responsible grown ups (demonstrated in the broken relationship between Tom Cruise and his kids).
Think of a perceived problem as a marketing message; as a movie poster that draws us in. We all need an accessible message to get the attention of clients and potential customers. That’s the cross we all have to bear. If we openly discussed the real problem- for example, telling people that they lack self confidence- we’d be doing ourselves a huge disservice. People don’t want to hear that. People want to know that you can relate with their experienced problem- fear of aging, drooping cheeks and jawline. That is what gets them through the door. That’s what marketing does. But what you then need to deliver is more than just fixing the elasticity of their cheek skin. Skin deep is not enough, you must go deeper.
Businesses that are built solely on a perceived problem have it hard. They are easy to put out of work, to compete with and to start a price war with. They come and go quickly when the trend disappears. Businesses that are built upon a real problem and focus on fixing it through value proposals, are the ones that become invincible. They are protected by their relevance and human connection. They are regarded as essential.
This is a choice we have to make when we build our organizations and when we run them. And it is a choice that will determine everything that will come from our businesses. It’s not about having the best price, the coolest product or doing crazy hard work. It’s about having a clear understanding of what people need and then dedicating ourselves to offering them just that.