Problems worth solving

How do you know if someone is in pain?

"Ow!" "Ouch!" "&*$#@!"

One way is to listen.

But even if you do hear someone groan, how do you know if they really are in pain?

When you ask me, "On a scale from one to ten, how bad does it hurt?" who says your six is my six? What if your pain tolerance is greater than mine? What if I'm just playing tough? Or being a big baby?

And when you know someone is in pain, what are you supposed to do about it?

With physical pain, you can relate. It's easy to sympathize with others. We all know how painful a stubbed toe is or how terrifying a slip of the knife the kitchen can be. We can console and heal those injuries. We're all human.

But then there's another kind of pain.

The pain of inability.

This is the pain that arises when we can't work towards our hopes and dreams. The anguish that comes from failing to achieve our goals. The frustration caused by a lack of knowledge or capability. When we're unable to complete an important task. When we can't improve our welfare or happiness. When some outside force prevents us from achieving what we came to do.

These are the pains crafty entrepreneurs seek to resolve.

But it's complicated, isn't it?

Not all pains are worth building businesses around.

Why is that?

Because each of us have different interests and different levels of skill. We don't all want to accomplish the same goals. We don't all have the same hopes and dreams. Each of us has had a different life. Each with varying degrees of opportunity and experience that has shaped us. Shaped our abilities. Shaped our interests. Shaped our motivations. And all of those unique twist and turns have determined what each of us consider painful.

So if we aim to build products or offer services relieving others' unique pains, how do we know which ones are truly painful?

And even if we do know there's pain, how do we know which ones are worth risking our time building a resolution for?

Friction

Friction is how we can identify pain worth resolving.

The greater the motivation, the greater the friction, the greater the pain.

In physics, friction is the force resisting the motion between two objects. The higher the friction is between two objects, the greater the force required to move them relative to one another.

Of course you've experienced friction if you've ever had to move a couch. Ever try pushing that heavy couch without lifting it first? The friction between the floor and the heavy couch—thanks to gravity—make pushing it difficult. But once you pick it up, with some help, it's much easier to move because air offers little resistance. At least until you hit the freeway and experience another version of friction—drag.

But just imagine how much easier it'd be to push a couch on ice. Ice has low friction. Pushing it on ice requies far less force—so long as you have the traction to give it. But you don't ice down your house to move the couch (as awesome as that'd be). Fortunately, you have friends, or movers, to help.

So how does this all apply to business?

Motivation

A customer's motivation is like a pushing force towards a goal. And friction is all the forces opposing their efforts—the pain—that prevent them from achieving that goal. The greater their motivation and the greater the friction they must overcome, the more pain they feel working towards the goal.

This motivation is important because there's no friction if there's no motivation. You might identify a problem, but if you can't find someone trying to overcome it, there's no friction to be had. If there's no friction, there's no pain. If there's no pain, there's no customer worth your time.

The friction you're looking for must be significant, frequent or both. The friction has to be felt. It has to be known. It means the motivation to achieve their goal is so great the customer has had no choice but to endure or overcome the friction required.¹

You're looking for the friction that has caused failure or pain.

You're looking for those who are stuck or have a serious rug burn.

It’s not enough to find a small amount of friction. We all overcome small amounts of friction every day that doesn't need resolution. This is how we end up with As Seen on TV products. And some of us are also fine with mediocre or temporary solutions. What you're looking for is the desire to remove that friction.

One way of knowing is if there are already related solutions in the market. Competitors. Look for demonstrated demand. That means there's a business to be had. Real pain to resolve around this market. Or in talking to others, learn if they have already been looking for or unsatisfactorily trying these solutions. Or, even better, see if they've already hacked together or hired some unsatisfactory, exhausting or expensive solution.

You're not looking for a job-to-be-done.

You're looking for a job-that-needs-to-be-done.

A person facing this friction will want their pain resolved—it's a future customer who is:

a) Highly motivated as they are already aware of enduring or overcoming significant friction.
b) Not finding solutions elsewhere otherwise they wouldn't be facing friction.
c) Already trying or looking to find ways to overcome that friction.

What you're looking for are clues that the painkiller is truly wanted.

The best clue is your own understanding of why a person you want to help wants to attain their goal. Why are they facing this pain? What is their motivation? Talk to them. Do your customer development. Don't ask them directly what causes their pain. There's a good chance they don't know the source. If they did, there wouldn't be dealing with it. Instead, observe what they actually do. What have they actually tried? Spot those who are stuck or have burns. Agitate the pain a bit, "Does it really hurt?"

Your job then is to identify these pains and get to work soothing.

But don't be too quick. You'll need to make sure you're capable of producing this painkiller. That you can communicate with and earn the trust with that customer (i.e. marketing). You'll also want to ensure that your target customer can afford the painkiller you'll offer for the time you'll risk producing it. Are there enough of these customers to achieve your own business objectives?

And if you really want to verify if the painkiller is wanted, see if they will offer pre-commitments for it. Don't ask. Just let them know that it's coming. This requires either great trust or great pain. Earn it or know it. It'll be a strong indicator your time will be well spent.

What you're trying to ensure is that your product is "worth it".

A product is worth it because it prevents limiting pain.

And the way to prevent that pain is by reducing or eliminating the friction causing it.

Lubrication

One way of helping someone overcome friction might be to offer them additional force.

Brute force gives the customer more pushing power to overcome their friction. Manpower. Greater processing speed. Quicker delivery. Buying traffic or attention with ads. These methods aren't all that sophisticated.

Instead, often the best products aren't the ones applying force. They're the ones that reduce or eliminate the friction altogether.

Lubrication is one smart way of reducing friction. It makes achieving the goal the current way far less painful or painless. Anything that can be applied to the current motivation is a form of lubrication. Education. An improved process. Performance or process improvements to an existing tool or platform. A smoother user experience, removal of steps required or an easier learning curve. These are lubrication.

Lubrication also makes great content marketing material. By providing info that educates or entertains your customer, you prove your understanding of their pain. It build trusts and adds value to their lives by helping them better achieve their goal.

Lubrication doesn't alter motivation, but it makes achieving a goal far less painful.

And while lubrication is a good place to start, the most valuable products are those that eliminate the friction altogether. Those products that give the customer the advantage of leverage.

Leverage

Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it and I shall move the world.

— Archimedes

A lever makes exerting great force easy. And instead of requiring the customer to still push towards their goal, it lifts—just like those friends who helped you move your couch. It makes friction non-existent.

A lever is a product that provides a customer a new, better and easier way of achieving their goal from where they're already at.

A product that makes attaining a goal a new way with less friction is a lever. It meets the customer where they are and provides them advantage. The customer pays for that advantage. They pay for pressing the lever to move towards their goal. The price point is the fulcrum that makes using the lever worth it.

It's the tool that makes a customer newly or completely capable. The tool that makes them more knowledgable than their competition. The tool that automates and repeats the painful grunt work so they can uncover their next pain.

Importantly, a lever must not cause more friction than the customer originally faced. It must provide the frictionless experience in a frictionless way. Certainly, there will be new frictions in the lever, but those are the next opportunities for future lubes and levers.

And this is what makes creating levers so difficult. Creating one itself requires you overcome tons of friction to do so. You have to have the comprehension. Have the resources and tools. Do the work. Produce the value. Earn the trust. Sell the value. Distribute and deliver the value. The reason it has so much leverage is exactly because it's overcome so much friction itself. That's why it has value.

Ultimately, your product's value is how much lubrication or leverage you sell to your customer to help them frictionlessly achieve their goal. Your customer pays for what makes applying the lube or pushing the lever worth it—less pain.

A problem worth solving

First, start by looking for those in pain.

But to know if they really are in pain, look for friction. Serious signs of friction.

You don't want to waste time luring people towards a goal. You want to offer help to those who are already stuck or burned by their motivation. You want to offer a painkiller to those frequently and significantly dealing with friction felt striving towards their goal.

You're not looking for a job-to-be-done. You're looking for the job-that-needs-to-be-done.

Your job then is to verify and create that painkiller. Look for clues. Demonstrated demand. And talk to those you want to help. Understand their underlying motivations. What are they actually doing or already trying that's causing their pain? They likely won't know what's causing their pain. That's your job to identify and why they will later pay you.

Offer pre-commitments if you really want to verify if your time will be worth it. This requires supremem trust or high pain. Earn it or know it. Ensure selling this painkiller can help you achieve your own aims.

And don't just sell additional force to overcome their friction.

Create and sell the product that reduces or eliminates the friction altogether.

Lubrication is one way. It doesn't alter their motivation, but it smooths or eases the process in achieving their goal.

The most valuable way to reduce friction is to use a lever. It's the product that provides the customer a new, better and easier way of achieving their goal from where they're already at.

Importantly, your lever must be far less frictionless than the previous solution. That's what makes a lever so hard to build but also what makes it so valuable. It overcame a ton of friction itself to be able to provide the leverage.

There will be new frictions in the lever, but those are opportunities for future lubes and levers.


  1. If you think you have the influence or cool-factor to lure people towards a goal, by all means, go for it. But it's more likely you have not yet earned the trust to have this level of sway and your best option is to offer help to those who need it.

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Published 15 days ago