“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost
WHAT IS A PROBLEM WORTH SOLVING?
Curing cancer, ending drug addiction, creating sustainable energy sources – all are problems worth solving.
Figuring out what problem to solve is the essential first-step when embarking on any important endeavor in life whether it be entrepreneurial, creative, societal, or career.
A worthwhile problem to solve will not be the same for you as it would be for me. It cannot be. We have different life experiences, strengths, motivations and perspectives.
The problem you decide to focus on could set the tone for your day-to-day experiences in the months or years to come. Your choice could determine how much money you make, how fulfilled you feel, and even form part of your legacy. So take your time.
And because finding a problem worth solving – one that’s right for you – is pivotal, I’ve posted my thoughts on the challenge.
I want you to start with a solid foundation.
ANATOMY OF A PROBLEM WORTH SOLVING
Here’s my list of what makes a problem worth solving:
- The problem is VERY important to an identifiable group of people and valuable to society
- You have a sustained interest, background, skills and / or passion in the area
- The opportunity to solve the problem is large enough to suit your ambitions
- You can win in this arena
Problems worth solving tend to: address an important human need, lighten mankind’s burden, increase human mastery of physical and virtual worlds, appeal to a universal trait or desire, or allow people and organizations to do more with less.
A problem worth solving is VERY important to an identifiable group of people. How you frame the problem (and attempt to solve it) will reflect your skills, perspective and resources.
EVEN SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE MESS UP
As Seth Godin relates in his StartUp School podcast, how you see the world determines a lot.
His story is set in 1988, a year when the internet was on the rise but before the world-wide-web came along.
Godin, who had an interest and knowledge of computers, was working as a book-packager at the time. He thought it VERY important for readers to learn about the internet so he and his team decided to put together a book called Best of the Net.
Meanwhile, two students at Stanford, David Filo and Jerry Yang, saw the rise of the internet and thought that categorizing and making its vast data searchable would be VERY important to anyone with an internet connection, so they started a search engine company, and named it Yahoo.
As Godin points out, it’s not what’s happening in the environment that determines whether a problem is worth solving, it’s how you see it, and if it’s right for you, that counts.
As Mr. Godin tells the story, he just didn’t see himself as the kind of guy who would start an internet search company.
Godin thought that learning about the internet from a book was VERY important to readers.
Filo and Yang thought that making the internet a ‘tappable’ resource would be VERY important to early adopters of the internet and that the internet would drive the next wave of expansion for mankind, meaning their idea had “legs.”
The Yahoo creators took an entrepreneurial approach – born of their Stanford environs and knowledge of computer science – and asked what is the best way to do this given today’s technology?
So what happened?
The book was a flop. Yahoo, a company that turbo-charged the internet, would go on to a peak value of $80Billion USD.
The point Godin makes: your background and what you tell yourself is important in setting your direction.
So too is figuring out if an opportunity is big enough for your ambitions and testing your assumptions.
WHAT PROBLEMS ARE YOU WELL POSITIONED TO SOLVE?
You are well positioned to take on an endeavor – to solve a problem that adds value to someone’s life – where a strength you have meets an opportunity you’re interested in.
Do you have a sustained interest, background, skills and / or passion in the area?
Skills are things you think or know you are good at and abilities people have praised you for whether in your personal, or professional lives.
If there is an opportunity you want to pursue and you, and your team if you have one, lack the skills, capabilities, qualifications or resources, can you figure out a way to fill your gaps?
And what about passion? You hear about the need to pursue your passion so often, the word has lost some of its meaning. If you can solve a problem people are willing to pay for in the direction of one of your passions – BINGO!
If you can’t name your passion, that is a problem. If this is you, try thinking about or picturing your passion, as your invisible friend. Like an invisible friend, it’s something that is always there with you.
Your passion is something you think about throughout the day. It’s a topic you want to read about and the experiences you seek out that allow you to express your enthusiasm.
If you don’t have or don’t want to fake a passion in an area an opportunity lies in, don’t worry. A strong interest in the subject will do. Passions can grow. Witness an excited plumber waxing on about plumbing problems, and stories from the job, and ask yourself if the passion started before he became a plumber, or after years on the job.
Commitment is also a good substitute for passion.
The main thing is to be into your endeavor with heart and mind so you stay with it during the set-backs and lean times.
CAN YOU WIN?
Problems are needs waiting to be fulfilled, opportunities are chances to fulfill them.
For a hockey team, the objective of the game is to score more goals than they allow. So the problem is clear. Now the team has to figure out how to score more goals on the opponent than the opponent scores on them. One solution is to keep the puck in the other team’s zone. Another solution is to get everyone on the team to block the other team’s shots.
Before entering an arena, before mounting a battle, before embarking on a momentous journey take the time to figure out how to win.
Do you have what it takes in terms of skills, background and resources?
Here’s an exercise that may help:
List your strengths then list problems worth solving that interest you. Mix and match each combination. Rank them.
Is there something new you can deploy like a technology to tackle the problem? Can you beat entrenched parties and newcomers to the punch?
If you have a problem worth solving on your radar screen, and you’re ready to seize the opportunity, it’s time to get going.
So what are you waiting for?