The Innovator’s Bias

“We have seen the enemy and it is us”.
  • Pogo

The top reason why products fail isn’t a failure to build what we set out to build, but wasting needless time, money, and effort building something nobody wants. Surely that’s not our intent. So why does this happen?

I attribute our natural predisposition to solutions (the Innovator’s Bias) as the top contributor to this failure. But problems, not solutions create space for innovation.

CI Mindset: Love the problem, not your solution.

While this mindset seems like common sense, therein lies the dilemma. Common sense is often the one least practiced well. Not because we don’t believe it, but because it seems too obvious or too simple to warrant rigorous attention.

Many of us do indeed start with an observed problem or are quick to turn our intended solution into a problem statement we believe. But problems are like icebergs. What you observe on the surface or post-rationalize is often misleading and outright wrong.

It has statistically been shown that two-thirds of all products launched this way completely miss the mark with customers.

When you rush to a solution too quickly without deep problem understanding, it fails to grab the attention of customers. Without customer feedback, we’re sent down a maze of possible rabbit holes. All holes lead to a build trap where breakthrough always feels one killer feature away, but remains ever-elusive. Why? Because simply throwing a bunch of stuff on the wall and seeing what sticks is a sub-optimal strategy for uncovering breakthrough insights and a form of waste.

A breakthrough insight or a secret (as Peter Thiel calls it) is key to building something new customers want. This requires a more deliberate search for deep problems before solutions — one conducted, not using surveys or focus groups or sketching a lean canvas or even asking customers what they want, but carefully scripted problem discovery interviews.

“It is not the customer’s job to know what they want.”
  • Steve Jobs.

Notice I said discovery, not validation. Problems cannot be validated, only discovered and turned into insights. How do you know whether you’ve uncovered the right insights? Through experiments and the resulting measured traction.

You can remember these first steps using a helpful mnemonic “D-I-E-T”. If you want to run lean, a lean diet is in order :)

Getting really good at problem discovery is a superpower skill worth cultivating. To illustrate how much value we place on problem discovery, half the time in a typical 90-day startup program is spent on problem discovery skills.

This is the wayfinding premium.

Not only does good problem discovery save you countless hours of dodging bullets (Matrix movie reference) and shift risks back to what you’re really good at - solution building, like riding a bicycle, once you learn it you can apply it repeatedly across multiple products and stages within the same product.

Now while starting with problems before solutions seems simple. Simple doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Tomorrow, I’ll lay out the top problems with problems and share some approaches for navigating these landmines.

Cheers.

Ash

P.S. The 90-Day Startup application deadline is Tuesday, July 13th. If you’re considering it, be sure to get your application in before then. The sooner you apply, the sooner we can review your application, and the more likely you will find a spot. We only have 100 seats available per session.