Finding Problems is Only 10% of the Value

By Trevor McKendrick 👋 - Have you read my free newsletter?

More People, More Problems

It’s easy to identify problems where you work. Every org in the world has problems.

Here’s a basic hierarchy of value when it comes to problem solving:

  1. Identify a problem
  2. Identify a solution
  3. Implement the solution
  4. Implement the solution fast
  5. Implement the solution fast and cheap

The thing is, identifying problems doesn’t add as much value as many people seem to think. Lots of people point at problems, many fewer of them solve problems.

And, of course, the more valuable part comes in actually solving problems.

I know, I know: that’s one of the most obvious sentences you’ve read in any of the 79 newsletters you subscribe to.

But it’s gotta be said, because so many people still don’t take the additional step of actually implementing a solution.

I have sympathy for them though. I think a lot of hesitation in driving solutions is a lack of knowing how to drive change when it requires a lot of other people.

More People, More Value?

Let’s state another “obvious” fact: it’s a lot harder to implement a change at 10,000 person company vs a 10 person startup.

The skills needed to do something vary a ton between those two size orgs.

Getting all those people aligned and moving in the same direction becomes far more important (read: valuable) than “knowing the right answer.”

Communication, diplomacy, alignment all become more important vs the technical skills required to do the work itself.

Knowing what to do becomes like 10% of the solution. Getting people aligned and rowing in the right direction is the other 90%.

A Contrived Example: Uber

Let’s take Uber as an example.

Watch me blow your mind while I identify a problem: Uber is unprofitable. Look at me, I’m a genius.

Next step is identifying a solution: I’m making this up, but let’s say that finding cheaper driver insurance would make Uber profitable.

Ok, next step in value: implement our solution. How many parts of Uber would driver insurance touch?

  • Product and Engineering (the change has to be implemented)
  • Finance and Legal (how much will this save? Is it legal?)
  • Driver growth team (could impact how many drivers sign up)
  • Policy team (what will the government think of the perception of cheaper insurance?)
  • PR and comms (what if the press has questions?)

(That’s a small list off the top of my head, I’m sure the real list would be much longer.)

And then imagine the complexity: insurance requirements are different in all 50 US states, to say nothing of international auto insurance laws and requirements.

How many people would need to coordinate to make this happen? Probably thousands.

The Gap Between Problem and Solution

Now think about how someone would sound at Uber if all they said was “we should reduce the cost of driver insurance” but didn’t offer any suggestions on how to do it.

“Thank you for that, but so what?” could be a potential response.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t bring up problems if you don’t have a solution. That could lead to a culture of fear where people are afraid to talk about what’s broken.

The point is to recognize that identifying a problem is only ~10% of the value, and that fraction gets a lot smaller as the size of your organization grows.

The bigger the org, and the bigger the problem, the less the value comes from knowing the solution, and much less so from knowing how to do it yourself.

The value comes in making tons of individual and unique human beings move in the same direction, in the same cadence, towards a collective goal and solution.


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