Hammer and nail - solution looking for a problem

“Solution looking for a problem” as a path for entrepreneurship

Technology is constantly evolving, and new buzzwords emerge every now and then, followed by people claiming to use them in various ways. Recently, ChatGPT has sparked a global AI trend, leading to the development of new projects that use AI for various purposes, including writing copy, drawing, financial reporting, data analysis, and scheduling. AI has become a “universal key” that can be used in any job, and people are eager to implement it.

However, history often repeats itself, and soon someone will point out the problem with entrepreneurs who are “solution looking for a problem” (those who create a product without first identifying a real need for it), while the successful ones become unicorns without criticism. Startup mentors suggest that instead of considering what new technology can do, entrepreneurs should focus on identifying the problem they want to solve and then find a suitable solution.

In other words, emphasizing technology over solution is a mistake, as it means using technology incorrectly to tackle a problem. For example, when entrepreneurs say “AI secretary” instead of “a secretary who knows you inside out,” they are focusing on the wrong thing.

Although these suggestions make sense, there is another perspective to consider.

Pigs can only fly in a favorable wind

As the saying goes, “pigs can only fly in a favorable wind,” and currently, the world is focused on AI, with ChatGPT being the hottest search term. As a result, if you want to take advantage of the buzz, you need to use the keywords to your advantage, or be a marketing genius. Otherwise, your product may be excellent, but don’t forget that algorithms are cold and ruthless and don’t support weaker products.

Social media has algorithms, just as the physical world does, or why else would there be the traditional wisdom that “good things don’t leave the house, while bad things travel a thousand miles”? The media follows social issues, so don’t underestimate the power of buzzwords or overestimate the public’s independent thinking abilities. Even if people are capable of independent thinking, they must first have access to basic information. When we say that entrepreneurs are using a hammer to find nails, aren’t we ourselves focusing on the buzzword? Perhaps the reality is the opposite of what we think. Maybe entrepreneurs are not chasing trends, but we only become aware of projects after the buzzword emerges.

Experts may have been paying attention to AI for a long time, but no one can deny that the public only began discussing AI after ChatGPT appeared. From an entrepreneur’s perspective, what would happen if the copy said “a secretary who knows you inside out” instead of “AI secretary”? Potential customers might not see it, investors might not notice it, and even worse, startup mentors might not know the project exists.

Therefore, it is essential to strike a balance between using buzzwords to attract attention and ensuring that your product solves a real problem.

First comes the chicken or the egg?

The proverb “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” is often used to describe an elusive cause-and-effect relationship, but people rarely ask, “did the problem come before the solution?” However, the answer may not be as clear-cut as you imagine.

Let’s do a thought experiment and ask ourselves: did you have the problem of “generating an image with just a few keywords in one minute” before the solution of AI-generated images appeared?

Personally, I can say that before the emergence of blockchain, I had no need to “issue my own currency.” Before the internet, except for science fiction writers, ordinary people did not have a need to “instantly send mail to the other side of the earth.” The reason is simple: all of these things surpassed the average person’s imagination.

When we say that some entrepreneurs have a “solution looking for a problem,” we must not forget that many times, even aside from technology, humans may not even be aware of the problem that needs to be solved. When I was young and lived in a shanty, I had never seen a flushing toilet and was not aware of the problem of cleaning up after going to the bathroom. Paradoxically, although humans are insatiable, they also lack imagination, except for inventors. Once we get used to something, even if it is a hassle, it is no longer a problem.

Many times, it is indeed the solution that leads to a series of problems. For example, with the emergence of lightweight and high-capacity storage, there was a need to “carry 1,000 songs everywhere.” If Steve Jobs had not been looking for nails with a hammer, there might not have been an iPod.

Without exaggeration, even the iPhone was largely a “solution looking for problems.” Before 2008, had you ever heard anyone express a need for “internet access anytime, anywhere,” “take a photo before eating,” or “know how to get to any place”?

However, when it comes to “solution looking for problems,” the iPad can be said to have gone above and beyond. All the early iPad buyers I know, including myself, either let the iPad collect dust for the first few years or worked hard to find a use for this “neither fish nor fowl” device that fell between a phone and a computer. Almost all of the iPad’s use cases were created after the glass was invented. Fast forward to today, I don’t use an iPhone, but I can’t put down my iPad mini.

Of course, only Apple’s marketing, rhetoric, and development capabilities could create such demand. I am not advocating that everyone should learn from Apple; otherwise, they will be overly ambitious and fail miserably. However, don’t forget that there are also successful cases of “solution looking for problems.” Moreover, we haven’t even talked about the classic Post-it notes yet.

The Power of McDull

In a McDull comic, there is a little story where McDull’s mother asks him why he always eats so much rice. The kind-hearted McDull replied that he eats a lot of rice so that he has the strength to open jars for others.

This is another example of “solution looking for a problem.”

McDull may be foolish, and perhaps we don’t have jars that are too difficult to open, but we cannot assume that other people do not need McDull’s strength. Just because we don’t have a problem doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist in the world. “Solution looking for a problem” may not always be a problem. The key is whether the problem exists, whether the product is good enough, and whether the marketing can reach potential users.

If you are like McDull, even if you are a fool and don’t know how to start from the problem to find a corresponding solution, please don’t be discouraged. Instead of getting caught up in other people’s criticism, focus on serving those who have the problem with “solution looking for people who have the problem.” Maybe you can also become a mediocre entrepreneur.

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