Wednesday, July 30, 2008

CTO Series - Describing the Problem

In a prior blog post I talked about the necessity of keeping a log of business ideas. Many ideas will die on the vine, consumed by wrongtime-wrongplace syndrome, lack of knowledge, or passing interest. A few however, will take on a life of their own. You will start to envision how this idea could come to life and why it changes everything. It grabs hold of you. In most cases, or perhaps the best cases, it solves some personal pain point in your life. Once the emotional hook is set it's time to take a rational view of the idea and start to develop a business plan.

The first step is to describe the problem in an unbiased way. It's easy to become biased once you become emotional about your idea. Think about whether the problem is generalized or specific (to you), whether others would consider it to be a problem or an inconvenience, who benefits from the solution, who doesn't want the problem solved, and why the problem has not been solved before. With all of these things in mind do a brain dump. Write whatever enters your head. Try to write 1000 words or more. Write the good and the bad, the fears, the warts, and the gems.

If this exercise hasn't frightened you from your emotional perch then it's time to boil the text into two to three sentences with the final goal being to come up with one perfect aha sentence. First highlight all of the sentences that are hurdles to implementation. These might look something like, "It will take more than 24 hours to scrape the entire web" or "the packaging will be too expensive to safely transport the vegetables across the country". These will be used in the next major step, Identifying the Solution. Throw the hurdles out for the purposes of the current exercise. Of the remaining text highlight the sentences that sound like they cause pain, "When searching the web people have to sift through too much crap" or "Vegetables at my local market are always nearly rotten."

Take the litany of pain and transform it into two to three concise sentences restating the pain. This is where you pull in some trusted advisors and talk them through the idea and pain points. See if they agree or have other ideas about your pain points. If they turn their nose then you should take another hard look at your idea. Was there something obvious you were missing out on. Think about the idea some more and perhaps put it back on the shelf for a little while, attaching all of the notes you've made. Ideas need momentum in order to become real. They feed on other's enthusiasm. If the people you trust get excited, they will be willing to help you in the future, which will lead to other doors being opened. Once you've passed this test boil your problem down to a single compelling concept or pain point if possible. Use the concept as your first slide of your business plan deck. Keep all of the sentences you like describing the pain symptoms. They will become your talking points. Now fire up your favorite mind mapping tool or pen and paper and go!

Veni, vidi, vici!

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