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How to Know the Difference between a Great Idea or Solution Looking for a Problem

No matter how good a potential invention appears on paper and in the R&D lab, if it doesn’t fundamentally address a specific outcome or overcome a specific constraint a customer is trying to accomplish by getting his or her important job done, then chances are the product concept will fail in the market.

A lot of tech oriented companies do a fantastic job of coming up with technology based ideas that could be the “next big thing.” Where they get stuck though is defining a value proposition and business model that has market appeal. The reason they get stuck is that they don’t have a good innovation framework to validate the concept and define real user requirements that customers will value and want.

So instead, they march forward in the development process only to discover that they have created a product that is a solution looking for a problem to solve. And/or a product that potential customers simple don’t understand (muddled value proposition). The product doesn’t quite fit anyone’s pain and they are having a difficult time describing what the product does and for which customers.

Defining value from the customer’s perspective

Before marching down the development process, we can use the jobs-to-be-done marketing lens in reverse order to identify potential and real jobs that people are trying to get done where our technology can be used to get their jobs done better, faster and cheaper.

Starting with the technology and it’s benefits and unique attributes, start asking the following questions to form a preliminary customer value proposition that you can test, verify and refine.

• What are the solution’s/technology’s capabilities? • What barriers does it overcome? • What objectives/desired outcomes can it address? • In what circumstance will it be most effective? • What constraints does it overcome? • For what jobs is the solution applicable? • Who would hire this solution for this job?

You should be able to come up with several potential user persona’s and circumstances where your solution has potential appeal. The next step in the innovation process is to tighten up the potential range of target customers by doing some quick and dirty market research, mostly secondary research to see what’s out there and what products and services customers’ are currently hiring to get their jobs done, while getting a general sense of the scope of the business opportunity.

If you aren’t finding a lot of information on what jobs people are trying to get done and their current “how they get it done,” you may very well find that either your technology doesn’t match a real problem or the technology is still too early in the adoption cycle to be commercially viable at this time.

If the concept is a promising new technology in the early stages of market adoption, most likely you will find a lot of secondary data to suggest that there is a lot of interest, at least from potential future competitors and industry evangelist. This should provide enough evidence to continue to explore and develop the concept.

At this stage of the process, you should be able to create a preliminary business hypothesis and customer value proposition that can be tested to validate, refine and/or steer you to a more compelling problem your technology and solution set solves.

Figure 1: Innovation validation loop

All truly new products will have more assumptions than truths

The objective is to identify the most critical assumptions up front and create a series of hypothesis and test to validate, refine or reject your concept early in the process. Not when you give your sales team the half-baked product and ask them to go sell it!

Test early, often and as cheaply as you can and eliminate the solution looking for a problem conundrum.


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