Stop solving problems nobody complained about

You don’t know a problem exists if nobody has complained to you about it.

You can’t assume that problem X annoys anyone. You can’t even ask them “are you annoyed by X?” because then they might decide they are even if they’ve never thought about it before. And if they’ve never thought about it before, then it’s not a problem worth solving.

The book The Mom Test is about the art of sneakily uncovering people’s problems without letting them tell you what you want to hear. If you go to your mom with an idea, then she’s going to support it no matter how dumb it is.

Here’s how it goes down:

You: “Hey Ma, it’s pretty frustrating to kick your dog’s food bowl and spill it everywhere, right?”

Mom: “Yes honey, that is frustrating!”

You: “Well what would you say if I created a food bowl that automatically covered itself when it got kicked?!”

Mom: “That sounds like a great idea! I’d buy that!”

And now you have validated an idea for a product nobody would ever buy, because you led her to the answer you wanted. Good job.

How about this?

You: “Hey Ma, why is there dog food all over the floor?”

Mom: “Oh I just kicked it accidentally.”

You: “Does that happen a lot?”

Mom: “Nope, that’s the first time. Usually I keep the dog bowl in that corner so it’s out of the way, but I was sweeping this morning.”

See the difference? When you don’t lead her to the answer you’re looking for, you get a real answer. This problem isn’t a problem.

I see this a lot with internal initiatives. People assume that a problem frustrates their coworkers, because why wouldn’t it? So they end up with agile transformations that address all the wrong issues or internal technology platform teams that build all the wrong tools.

The book When Coffee & Kale Compete talks about this in the context of Jobs To Be Done. It says that you should look for the fire around a problem. If someone gets fired up when they talk about a problem they’re having, that one is worth solving.

Stop solving problems that nobody’s fired up about.

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