It's all About the Problem

Phillip Kotler, hailed as the world’s foremost expert on the strategic practice of marketing, defines marketing as…

“…satisfying needs and wants through an exchange process.”

The Exchange

The ‘exchange’ he talks about implies that both parties gain something. After all, you shouldn’t be in business if there is nothing to be gained from an exchange with your customer. So, to find the right things to do we need to ensure that both the business and the customer gain something they want or need. A win-win. But to gain something from the exchange for the business, we have to first satisfy our customers’ most pressing needs.

But what do customers need?

Customers don’t need or want things without apparent reasons. They need or want things to do something for them, be it clean their clothes, get from one place to another, make them feel better, make things easier, etc.

People need and want things that solve their problems.

Satisfying customer needs is……solving their problems.

Needs are just unsolved problems. Innovation is about providing a solution to those problems.

If necessity is the mother of all invention, problems are the parents of all innovation

Problems of the customer


Instead of trying to find out what people NEED , start talking to them about their PROBLEMS. It’s so much easier to identify a problem than to try to understand a need.

People can articulate problems much more easily than needs. You can also visualise a problem more clearly than a need.

Start thinking this way and you will be amazed at how much easier it is to identify unsolved problems than unmet needs.

Problems speak louder than words

“Human history in essence is the history of ideas.”
HG Wells (1866 – 1945)

Take the wheel, for example. It’s one of man’s most significant discoveries, without which we would still be in the dark ages. It wasn’t discovered by accident, but developed to solve a problem.

The solution came about through a sequence of solutions that in turn presented new problems, which were again solved.

Faced with the problem of moving heavy objects man discovered that if objects were more or less round - e.g. large boulders, tree trunks - they could be rolled more easily than lifted.

But moving large asymmetric objects was still a problem. Soon, man realised that if a round object, like a tree log, was placed under any heavy object, it could be moved.

That was fine if it was one large object, but what if you had a load of smaller heavy objects – stones etc? The solution was a platform that could be rolled over logs, placed one after another. By moving the series of logs, the platform could be moved continuously. But that still involved continuously lifting the last log and moving it to the front, which wasn’t very efficient.

Man then found a solution to this new problem. By placing pegs in the platform that kept the log in place underneath it could be made to roll in a fixed position. The rounder the log, the more likely it was to stay between the pegs.

Special rolling logs were carved. But the logs soon became damaged through contact wth the ground. The solution was a rolling log, perfectly rounded under the platform, with each end of a greater diameter to protect its middle. And so the axle and wheel combination, carved from a single log, was invented.

But the wheels often wore out before the axle, or the axle broke leaving two perfectly good wheels.

The solution? Carve the axle and wheels separately allowing the axle to be fixed more solidly to the base of the platform. This became the foundation of all land transport. Of course, this sequence of problem solving continued over centuries, resulting in cars, trucks, trains and other wheeled transport we take for granted today.

Problems are the parents of all innovation.


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A great introduction to this unique new problem-led front-end of innovation technique. The book is also a complete DIY guide to running your own KN3W IDEAS workshop because it contains a complete set of the patent-pending KN3W IDEAS templates and tools, and a step-by-step classroom in a book tutorial – everything you need to start picking the right things to do – now!