A little over ten years ago, Eric Ries wrote about “loving the problem” and the structured approach to doing this. As we work with emerging market founders, we’ve realized that another way of saying “love the problem” is saying “live the problem.”
In this blog, we’ll help you discover the meaning and essence of loving/living the problem and why it matters so much.
Founders are problem solvers and so founders want answers. Most founders, when they arrive at what they think is the ideal answer to a question, will stop reverting to the initial question. In a startup problem-solution context, this can be destructive as our first idea is rarely the best solution to a problem. It gets even worse when we go deep into building a solution without having formed both a factual and contextual understanding of the problem itself. Let’s break these thoughts down.
First, what is loving/living the problem?
Loving the problem means that you are obsessed with understanding the problem – the main trigger point to the obsession of solving it. When you immerse yourself into that problem set it is as if you are living the problem. In a startup context, this would mean experiencing a pain point your customer is facing just as they face it within their given context.
Loving the problem also enables you to go deep into that problem, which ultimately requires going deep into the domain where this problem exists. By domain, we mean the industry vertical you’re solving the problem in. Each domain will have its unique problem sets and so good problem solving without an understanding of the domain is, simply put, counterproductive.
Next, what does it mean to form a contextual understanding of the problem?
Factual understanding is simple and most often a surface level understanding of the problem. For instance, factually Uber identified problems in the traditional cab system on a scale and wanted to digitise it. In its contextual understanding, they identified that both riders and drivers need fast connectivity with ease of use. By going deeper into this domain they understood the need to establish trust among riders and drivers. So Uber gave riders accountability, customer service and ease of payment, it also gave drivers a choice through a two-way rating system and information about the areas on the route.
This is why there are many great ideas but fewer great startups. Contextual understanding requires understanding the nuances of your problem and domain as well as tying these nuances in with macro factors. This lets startups form a holistic understanding of the problem as well as the best way in which the problem can be solved.
Say there is a problem you are solving. While remaining in the factual realm, your solution will not go beyond solving 50% of the problem. Contextual understanding is the only way to achieve the latter 50%. This graduation from factual to contextual understanding is fuel to a true problem solver’s mind. It brings you into a zone where your subconscious mind is absorbed in the problem – this is where “Eureka Moments” happen.
In this zone, you graduate from problem-solving in a scientific manner to problem-solving in both a scientific and an artistic manner. You begin connecting the dots. This is how you build a Eureka Generating Machine. A note on patience here: giving a problem its due time is the only way to arrive at the best solution and this process requires patience. The best possible solution is a sum of eureka moments and only comes when the machine is active.
If we look at eureka generation in a more process-oriented manner, the key components of this process are shown below. We’ve talked about intelligent grit in our previous blogs as a defining trait of good founders – one contributor to a founder’s grit is loving the problem and being obsessed with the solution. When combined with intelligence, this is where the magic happens. When this is enhanced by passion and hard work and applied to problem-solving, it is followed by the eureka generation. The more these three elements, the more the process is accelerated.
The more these eureka moments, the stronger your game plan and the better your solution. Good startup founders use all these ingredients as they go through the structured process of focusing on the problem and finding the best solutions through continuous experimentation and iteration.
Not only is this process necessary to build a great company but investors are particularly great at identifying founders that repeatedly produce eureka moments; these are the founders they invest in. At ScaleX, we work with founders to help them build this Eureka Generating Machine and then to be able to repeat it as they move through different stages of their startup cycle.