Fixed on problem, loose on solution
Have a strong opinion about what problems you’re trying to solve, but be loose about how you’re going to solve them.
This is something I’ve learned over the past year.
The first version of your non-obvious idea on how to solve a problem is usually off the mark. So you launch something, talk to users, and edit. After several such iteration cycles, you land on a solution (a #product, a service) that fits right in the market. Even though the process of inching closer to the right solution is hard, it is your flexibility about your choice of solution that helps get you there.
But if you are fixated on how you’re going to solve a problem you’re likely to close yourself to a range of options early. That’ll make things harder for you even though it may feel less painful.
You’ll move away from your original problem, try and solve easier problems instead that many more are attempting to solve. This may happen without you realizing. Now your users see on your door the same name plate they see on that of others. Why should they choose you? You will have to win their attention and trust all over again.
I say this not by dint of having successfully overcome these challenges I talk about but as someone facing them as part of my own journey. Last year, I started writing long-form essays on Medium. The topics varied from mental models to organizational behavior to leadership to product management to decision-making. I started a Substack newsletter subsequently and continued in the same vein. I was sure I wanted to only write. I was clear on the solution (writing) and loose on the problem (decision-making or product or leadership).
A couple of mentors suggested to me to narrow down the problem. They asked me to identify myself with one thing first. I picked decision-making and better thinking. And I realized that to be able to deeply explore the topic (and help knowledge workers like me who wanted to become better thinkers), I had to explore ways of articulating myself. Ways in which my audience found it easier to understand the meat-and-potatoes concepts. So I started writing short-form content (LinkedIn posts) and a couple of thematic series. Soon, I realized that presenting visual content helped with the recall value. I started sketching. After speaking with people who followed my content, I realized short video provides another way of reaching my audience (lower cognitive load, immersive). I had a few generous viewers write to me about how I could up my video game and I’m working on their suggestions.
I haven’t cracked it yet. Far from it. In fact, I don’t believe there’s any one consistently working solution. But I do believe in being flexible about how I solve a problem than what problem to solve.
If you like such food for thought, you can subscribe to my newsletter at satyajitrout.substack.com. I post every Friday.