Solutions Looking for Problems

October 11, 2017

Dear Strategy:

“At what point is a solution looking for a problem and a problem looking for a solution?”

To answer this question, let’s try to understand where product ideas come from. Don’t worry, there are only two basic origin stories to talk about.

The first comes about when companies (and their product managers) are in constant touch with the market and seek to understand customer problems that need solving. We’ll call this the “outside-in origin.” In these cases, it’s important to note that “problems,” as we define them, can be stated or unstated. They can also be tangible issues, or emotional desires. All of these so-called “problems” can be grouped under the category of “needs.” And if companies seek to understand customer needs, they will naturally develop products that address those needs. And then they will win in the marketplace.

The second origin of product ideas, which we’ll call the “inside-out origin,” also comes from needs – but not of the customer variety. In this scenario, companies come up with ideas based on what they think customers would want to buy. Often times, these ideas are based on intuition or, worse, on what companies want to build rather than on what customers actually want to consume. Sometimes a company’s intuition is right. But, more times than not, at least in my opinion, this type of origin story results in a market clunker that simply can’t be moved.

Within these two origin stories lies the answer to our question. The “outside-in origin” is a problem looking for a solution. The “inside-out origin” is a solution looking for a problem.

So, now a question for you: Which product backstory would you rather have?


Listen to the podcast episode
Dear Strategy: Episode 019




Bob Caporale is the author of Creative Strategy Generation and the host of the Dear Strategy podcast. You can learn more about his work by visiting

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