Loving Problems, Breaking Up With Ideas

It feels like our culture celebrates good ideas more than great execution, but that’s the fixed mindset again.

Photo by Sammie Chaffin

This genius is attached to our image of what an entrepreneur is, the one with the big ideas, the lightbulb moments of inspiration that come to enlightened individuals with a gift.

But this isn’t the truth, and more importantly there’s another area you can focus on which will give you a much higher chance of success over a sustained period.

If you focus more of your energy on the problem, falling in love with solving it, and deeply understanding it, you’ve got a much higher chance of solving it and creating value for your audience.

The main problem with focusing on your idea is that you spend all of your energy trying to prove it’s great and making the world fit around it, and that fixed approach doesn’t give much space for you to learn what the world really wants.

The old cliché with ideas is whether they survive first contact with reality. Yes, it might be a great idea that everyone tells you is wonderful, but that doesn’t make it a success.

Anyone who has attended any of my workshops over the years will know about my love for the Mom Test, I’ll write about it in a future post. Having a great idea that you’re deeply committed to will ruin your conversations with potential customers, and will totally influence the feedback you’re seeking and what you hear.

Your heart and ego wants to hear how much they need it, how much the value it, and how much they love you.

Therein lies the problem, when we love the idea, we grow attached and it becomes a part of our identity.

You might love your idea, you might think like a genius, but that means nothing if nobody wants to buy it, or if you can’t execute.

Execution is much more important. It’s about making it happen, and there are a bunch of key skills and approaches you need to work on, but mostly how to listen, and really wanting to hear the negative views.

You want the negative stuff, because it’s better to know that before you spend too much precious money and time on building what you think is the best feature but which nobody is interested in paying for.

The difference when you fall in love with the problem is that you start to look more at the range of solutions. It means you don’t have all your eggs in one basket. If you have one idea for how you can solve the problem and it doesn’t work out then you can take a step back and approach it from another angle.

The other advantage is that if you have one idea that looks like it’s working but then you uncover a better approach which is even more effective then you’re not too committed to ditch the original one.

The best example of this is Netflix, a company that was founded on very innovative principles. They tried things, learned, and implemented. But they were never more committed to a single idea than they were the overall mission.

They started posting DVDs, either on subscription or for people to buy them. But it soon became clear that the direct sales were never going to scale as much as the subs, so they ditched 80% of their revenue to ensure they could focus more energy on scaling the subs business. This decision worked out pretty well, but was even more successful when they ditched their DVD postal business altogether for the online streaming business, which has propelled them to become one of the largest and best known companies on this planet.

They also made each experiment low-cost and low-risk, so they didn’t let the sunk-cost fallacy get in the way of ditching a bad idea.

One of the Netflix founders, Marc Randolph, cites this mindset of falling in love with the problem in his book That’ll Never Work. It’s well worth a read.

Your job is not to be a genius, but to continue to solve problems and create value for your audiences, customers, staff, or others.

The best way to do that is to marry the problem and break up with the ideas.

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Gareth I. Jones

Gareth I. Jones

Founder of TownSq, focused on building communities of entrepreneurs, supporting startups and B Corps - businesses that are better for the planet.