Be Problem Obsessed.
Last night I heard a talk by one of New Story Charity’s executives through the Founder’s Lab accelerator program (highly recommend!), and he said something that struck me (apologies to the speaker for my wordsmithing):
“Too many people who want to turn an idea into reality are obsessed with the solution. That’s the wrong mentality at the outset. If you want to contribute something of value to society, you need to be completely obsessed with the problem. Only by developing a deep understanding of the problem — breaking down the problem into its smallest parts — can you develop an effective solution.”
I sheepishly turned inward, as I for one am guilty of this solution-focused mentality where I devote all of my attention on the possibilities of my idea and what that solution could become with infinite time, energy and capital. I become so lost in the possibilities of the idea that I lose track of the problem I was trying to solve. As my idea grows exponentially, I move further away from the minimum viable product and into the realm of the possible, not the practical. A place, at least for me, most of my ideas live and die a slow death.
So, before my wife and I go any further on this new venture/project/ thought experiment called Our Family Startup (our two-year journey of taking on a “founder’s mentality” and applying that to our family dynamics; a mindset where we adopted a purpose and core values for our family and embraced a process of continuous change to never accept the status quo; and now, are contemplating sharing what we’ve learned on this ongoing journey and helping other committed partners do the same), we took a step back and went through the process of clearly defining the problem, and then broke down this problem into its component parts.
The overarching problem we’re trying to solve is as follows:
We do not have an intentional strategy to life’s most important goal — building a family (however you define it) of enduring love and happiness.
Without this intentional strategy, we become complacent and we fall into a survive rather than thrive approach to our day-to-day family life. That’s a large problem with a solution that could go in a number of directions.
Are we going to provide this intentional strategy? Or, is this a problem identification concept where we simply help families identify that this problem exists? Rather than provide the strategy, are we going to provide the framework and each family develops their own strategy? Who is this for? Only partners and relationships facing issues and challenges? Or, more broadly, any relationship who wants to achieve this goal and adopt a more intentional, entrepreneurial approach to family dynamics? Is this marital counseling (which we know nothing about nor have an expertise or certifications required)? Or, is this something else? A book, a manual, a subscription, a newsletter, an app, an online platform that encourages and facilitates the adoption of this intentional approach?
With so many avenues available to us and infinite number of solutions, we asked (based on the nudge from New Story above), “how can we break down this problem into smaller parts?” For us, the most effective process to complete this task was to go through the thought process and write down why, from our perspective, this problem exists in the first place.
Why does this problem exist? Throughout our lives, we have approached our relationships, from our grade school sweetheart to our lifetime partner, as a matter of pure emotional connection. We see someone we’re attracted to, we spend more time with that person, an emotional connection arises, and if it’s strong enough, we make a commitment to spend the rest of our lives with one another. If it’s not, we go our separate ways. This romantic idea of falling in love with each other and simply expecting this love to last and grow on its own is reinforced by every movie and every Netflix series that we watch and every novel that we read throughout our life. This is it. That is the strategy. Fall in love and hope it lasts. And don’t get us wrong, we love these fairy tale stories, we love nothing more than watching our friends and family fall in love and find their life partners — heck, we believe we’re more in love today than at any other time since that fateful blind date in college 14 years ago! The problem we have is the reliance on hope and not on an intentional strategy the two committed partners developed and work at to ensure they are building a family of enduring love and happiness.
With this hopeful strategy as the mainstream approach to our family dynamics, now, talking about improving our relationship or improving our family culture is a faux pas. “Why should we talk about improving our relationship? Do you think something is wrong with us? We shouldn’t need to have these conversations. We’re in love! Aren’t we? I don’t see anyone else having these conversations! Do you think we need to go to marital counseling? What’s wrong with us?”
So now, the only time we talk about improving our relationship is when a conflict arises and these conversations tend to be tense, emotional, and at times ugly. Enough experience with these painful conversations and we come to learn that these conversations are something to be avoided.
And that’s where we are.
- Media/society tells us love is all we need and if its “true love” it will last forever and we don’t need to work at it.
- Because of this media driven fairy tale view of love and relationships, conversations about improving our relationship tend to arise only when there is a conflict or issue that needs to be addressed.
- These conversations are oftentimes tense, emotional, or even ugly and oftentimes do not solve the root cause of the conflict.
- We come to expect some form of pain from these conversations, which leads us to avoid these conversations altogether.
- Because these conversations are avoided and conflicts are not solved at their root, either (A) we find a way to live with or adapt to the problem and carry on with our lives or (B) the failure to solve the problem leads to more conflict and more frustration.
- This results in a status quo (or deterioration) where we’re playing whack a mole with issues that arise over and over again taking solely a reactive approach to our relationship trying to keep things as they are rather than trying to move forward toward something greater.
This thought exercise allowed us breakdown our one larger problem into smaller, more specific questions to help drive our solution:
- How do we change the narrative on “true love” that demonstrates building a love and family that lasts requires more than fate and hope?
- How do we encourage and facilitate frequent intentional conversations about family and relationships?
- How do we make these conversations exciting and enjoyable so we stop avoiding these conversations?
- How do we use these conversations to bring us closer together either through the conversation itself or inspire actions outside of those conversations?
- (A)How do we make these conversations practical, solution-driven, with a tangible action focusing on bringing positive change?
(B) How do we change the mentality of “me vs. you” to two people, on the same team, on this adventure together to achieve a lifetime of happiness?
6. How do we ensure that we never settle for the status quo and we adopt a mindset where we never stop innovating and finding new ways to bring us and our family closer together?
Adopting this “problem-obsessed” mindset and going through the thought process to break down our problem into its smaller component pieces, we are now looking at the problem from a completely different vantage point. Rather than trying to provide one solution to this large, amorphous, overarching problem, we have seven different questions representing seven different problems, each with potentially its own specific solution. We can now measure our ideas and concepts against these seven questions and ask (i) what question(s) does this solution answer, (ii) how effective is this idea at solving the problem posed by the question(s) and (iii) do we have the time, skillset, and resources to build it?
Focus on the problem. Not the solution. Be problem obsessed.
Thanks for the tip New Story.