Love the problem and not the solution

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I have all sorts of training and qualifications that help me to design and build awesome solutions. It excites me. I love my job. Which means that I have to sit on the impulse to jump straight to solutions and remember to concentrate on the problem every single day.

The moment you start to design a solution, you are heading down a road that is harder to get off  every day that passes. It is human nature. You invest time, effort and your personal awesomeness in a solution and before long you love it. It can be emotionally painful to ditch it even if it is obviously not the right solution.  (I promise not to start talking about any of my ex’s). Even if you don’t like the solution, it is still hard to throw away the time and money invested in it. It is all too easy to roll out a solution that does not really solve the problem any more. 

The Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge is a tourist icon, but that is just a benefit. The problem it was built to solve was to get across the Golden Gate strait, thus saving the hours it would take to drive round the bay.

If an earthquake knocks the bridge down, the new one might be very different. The solution is variable but the problem is the same.


The easy way to avoid this trap is to have a hypothesis that you work to prove or disprove.  Build it with a clear problem in mind and refer to it often.

We think that by doing X we will solve the problem Y 

Do some user needs research, observation studies, web metrics, talk to colleagues, impact map, reverse engineer proposed ideas and on and on…. Once you start to see a consistent problem emerge ask yourself if it is worth fixing. There is a whole series of articles coming on how to work that one out.

Solving the problem

When building your solution it is critical to review any progress against the problem. Make sure that everyone starts and finishes with the hypothesis every meeting, and talk about that MORE than the solution. Nobody cares how fantastic a solution is apart from the people who built it. The business cares that we solved their problem. Then they want us to get on with the next problem.

Here are a few questions.

  1. Do you have a list of all the solutions that your team has rolled out over the last year?
  1. Do you have a list of all the problems that you and your team have solved over the last year?
  1. Do you know why they were important to the business?
  1. Do you know why they were important to customers?

Most people have a good idea of point 1.

As you move down the list it is often the case that teams are a bit more vague in their responses.

We are all creative problem solvers

So here comes the weird hippy stuff.

It is very easy to DO stuff. It does not require too much thought and may or may not be of value to the business.

It is harder to LEARN what works and what does not. This requires discipline and regular checking. It also requires us to learn that our egos will take a bit of a beating. This is why a lot of teams quickly go off learning.

It is also quite hard to be CREATIVE. It sounds easy but the real world can make it quite a challenge. Again the ego can take a beating until teams learn how to work well together.  DO’ing also gets in the way and is often viewed as Real Work.

PROBLEM SOLVING feels amazing. It is like getting to the top of a high mountain and discovering that the view was even more amazing than you thought possible. It takes a lot of work to get up the mountain and most people have to constantly keep thinking about the reward at the top. Some people give up but those that persist will feel pretty good. People will like you. It can become habit forming…

When I hire people I look for the ones that are willing to do the right things to get to the top of the mountain, even if that involves lying in a field and staring at clouds rather than doing something unwise just to look busy.  I want the creative problem solvers who can get the job done. They also challenge me to be better when I work with them. Thats always a good thing 🙂


I do like a ramble.

  • Solve problems
  • Don’t get fixated on solutions
  • Remember the problems
  • Doing is nice but remember to learn, pivot, test and make sure you solve the problem.
  • And don’t forget about the problem.

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