I’ve previously described the importance of uncovering problems worth solving early in your business modeling, but how do you avoid the innovator’s bias for the solution?

The recommended path for filling out a Lean Canvas is starting with the problem/customer segment quadrant but if you already carry a picture of a hammer in your head, the danger is framing all problems as nails. Today’s post is about avoiding this trap.

Don’t build a better X, Build a better user of X

The first step is a mind shift. Instead of brute forcing your solution (reframed as problems) on your customer segment, start by defining the bigger compelling context for your customers. People don’t buy a camera to get a camera. They buy it to take photos. So focus on the bigger compelling context (photography) and not on the tool (camera).

Taking this a step further, the goal shouldn’t be building a better tool, but building better users. Kathy Sierra calls this making them badass which is a term she’s experimented with over the years. Other contenders were passionate, awesome, expert…She picked badass because the others were prone to easily being misunderstood for making customers feel better versus making them better. Being badass is not about your solution (or your brand), but what people do with it. It’s about the results.

Side note: Kathy has a new book out by the same title that I highly suggest picking up if you haven’t already.

So rather than immediately jumping to the unique features of your camera, think about how it helps people become better photographers. Before even getting to the problem box, write down “Helping people take better photos” under your Unique Value Proposition (UVP).

Sure your UVP isn’t specific enough yet and still begs the question: What does “better” really mean? Uncovering the dimensions of creating “better” users is the key to solution differentiation that matters — not the other way around.

Here’s how to jumpstart this process…

Walk the Customer Journey in Your Customer’s Shoes

The initial battle is fought (often unconsciously) in your customer’s mind. It helps to put yourself in their shoes by walking the forces path shown below:

You’ve already identified “Taking better photos” as the desired outcome. Think about the success criteria for measuring this outcome. In other words, how does your customer know they have taken a better photo? How do they display these better photos? Do they print it on canvas, put it an album, share it online, etc.?

Next think about the situational context that triggers or motivates this outcome. When do they usually take these photos? Is it casual, intentional, spontaneous? Do they carry other gear with them?

Try articulating a job story using the following fragment (via Alan Klement):

The more specific you get here, the clearer your customer segmentation and early adopter qualifying criteria become. Remember it’s not just the demographic cues but rather the psychographic (or behavioral) cues that are more actionable.

Examples:
When I’m traveling, I want to take beautiful photos, so I can share them with others.

When I’m traveling on vacation, I want to take beautiful photos on the go, so I can share them with my friends instantly over social media.

Benchmark the jobs within the bigger compelling context

Once you start thinking at the bigger compelling context, you will inevitably find yourself in the company of several (and maybe unexpected) possible solution alternatives in your customer workflow.

In the photography space, for instance, photo editing software, tutorials, tripods, and cameras all help people with the job of taking better photos. But not all of them are your competitors.

Your competition are the things you want your customers to fire to hire you instead.

It’s not just about your unique features but how you anchor these unique features against your customers existing alternatives or jobs-to-be-done. On the customer forces diagram, the existing alternatives map to the habits of the present that represent inertia which is the first customer hurdle to overcome.

Once you benchmark those jobs, you begin to identify where they currently fall short for the given success criteria and situational context. This is where the real problems worth solving usually hide.

Example:

When I’m traveling on vacation, I want to take beautiful photos on the go, so I can share them with my friends instantly over social media.

I currently use a DSLR camera which takes great photos but…
Possible problems: Bulky, don’t aways have with me, more steps to share with others.

While the other alternatives might not be direct competition, they might still represent opportunities for making your customers badass or even expose new possible solutions. For example, including basic photo editing tools and filters with the camera speed up the click to share time — reinforcing badass.

Finally, think of anxieties or points of friction that might keep your customer from firing their current alternative. Bake that directly into your UVP if it’s big enough. Otherwise, there’s lots of other places to address these objections such as in testimonials, feature blocks, etc.

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What do you think Apple wants you to fire with their world gallery campaign? And what are they doing on this page to justify the switch?

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In Summary…