Tool Thinking Versus Problem Thinking: Which One is Better for Your Side-Hustle
Many entrepreneurs fall in love with the wrong part of their business. It’s easy to get so deep in the weeds, we fall in love with our product. We might spend months, even years developing our product.
It’s easy to become obsessed with the tool.
…but the tool isn’t the purpose of our side-hustle. When we adopt ‘tool thinking’ we are liable to end-up with an inferior product. We might solve the customer’s problem for now, but if the market changes, tool thinking could make our side-hustle obsolete.
Instead, there’s a better way.
Instead of falling in love with the solution–the tool–we fall in love with the problem. This is the problem thinking mindset. When we adopt this way of thinking, our business is positioned for the long-haul.
Problem-thinking businesses are designed to innovate.
We don’t fall in love with one solution. Instead, we constantly ask ourselves, “is there a better way?” As we solve the customer’s problem we will develop new tools for them, but we won’t be married to a particular solution.
Problem thinking allows you to be more agile and competitive, in a world that wants to steal your cookies at all times.
Who Do You Serve?
The people you serve are your tribe. You solve their problems with your solutions. Others are welcome to join, but you make your best work only for your tribe, no one else.
When you serve one niche you have the advantage to deep-dive their problems.
Large brands focus on image advertising, because they have no vehicle to develop a tight relationship with their customers. No so with a side-hustle. You have the advantage of getting to know your customer well.
When you serve one niche you become the tollbooth of your industry.
It’s easy to dominate a particular niche with your expertise and content. You become the go-to voice for your tribe. When you’re the go-to voice you also become the listener. Customers will confide in you.
When customers confide, you understand what they really want.
And when we know the problem we actually solve, not just the surface-level problem, this is where we shine. This the power of problem thinking and this is the way to build a lasting side-hustle.
What’s the Problem?
When we choose problem-thinking, we begin with our tribe, then we focus on the problem. Undoubtedly, your tribe will have more than one problem. Not only that, but everyone is different.
If you tried to create a solution for everyone in your tribe, you’d never produce anything.
Even though you’ve built a group of like-minded individuals, every person has their own life, troubles, and situations. Instead of trying to please everyone, we’ll go as big as we can. We’ll choose an 80% problem.
An 80% problem is big-enough to serve 80% of your tribe.
You’ll never make everyone happy, but you can make enough people happy to make a great living for yourself. Don’t choose small problems. Don’t choose a problem the reader doesn’t know she has.
If you have to teach your customer she has a certain problem, you’ve lost before you started.
Instead, we develop a relationship with our tribe. We listen. We use specific surveys to uncover what they don’t want. This will help you uncover what they do want. If you ask your customers what they want, they’ll give you an answer. But that answer may not be the product we buy.
Remember, we buy with emotion and later rationalize the purchase with logic, not the reverse.
Choose the 80% Problem
Once we ask the right questions and uncover what our tribe doesn’t want, it’s our job as entrepreneurs to help them understand what they do want. It’s our job to articulate the feelings they have.
The 80% problem needs solving now.
If we can solve this problem we transform the customer. We move her from where she is now to where she wants to be. We show the life she must escape from and the life we can provide, should she buy our product.
The 80% problem is obvious to your average reader.
The 80% problem keeps the lights on and the parking lot full. If you focus most of your efforts on the 80% problem, and a smaller effort on the pet projects, your main business will pay for all the side-projects you’d like to try.
We fall in love with the 80% problem.
We can’t choose which 80% of our customers will buy the product, nor can we make 100% of our customers happy. But we can solve a big problem for the majority of our customers and big solutions to big problems will keep you in business a long time.
What’s Your Magic Bullet?
The magic bullet is your final solution (for now). This is your product (for now). If we follow problem-thinking, once the product ships, we’ve only begun.
Your magic bullet transforms your reader. You have a repeatable product that leads similar results, across a variety of people, all with the same problem.
If you can solve the problem for one person, but ten others can’t repeat the success, you don’t have a magic bullet.
Once you’ve got the magic bullet you ship. You ship as fast as you can, to get your work in front of your tribe. Their vote is the only vote that counts. Once you ship, the work starts again.
How Can You Solve the Problem Differently?
The first shipped product is only the beginning of the journey. When we choose problem-thinking we focus on the problem, repeatedly. We ask the question, “how can we solve this differently, better, or faster?”
Problem thinking is a never-ending growth mindset.
When we adopt this thought process we say, “I have the best solution possible, for now, but what’s the better way to solve the problem next?”
If you only focus on solving the problem better, you’ll never ship anything. You don’t have a business without a product. As long as we don’t fall in love with our product, and be willing to abandon it when a better solution comes, we’ve adopted problem thinking.
What is your view of the world, as you’d like it to be, or as it should be?
The belief is the end-game. In between the customer’s current world and your end-game view of the world, is a big problem. When we put our focus on the best solution to the problem, we help our customer get to a life in the world as it should be.
You Become Untouchable
Remember, most side-hustles are tool thinkers. The means any competition must wait for you to ship your product before they’ve got an idea to copy or compete with.
But once you ship, you’re already on to the next idea. You use your current product as a springboard to a better solution.
Your competition will see you as a single product. They will try to make a better version of the product you already sell. But you aren’t focused on the product. You focus on the outcome. You focus on the problem. You focus on your customer’s transformation.
This thinking method gives you a tollbooth position in your marketplace.
While everyone scrambles to make the next, best X, you’re not focused on the product at all. The product/tool is the solution to the problem. You see the product as a stepping stone on the way to an even better solution.
Problem thinking is forward-thinking.
Our Marketing Focuses on the Problem Too
Not only do we as a side-hustle, focus on the problem, but we aim our marketing that direction too. We use our sales material to paint the before and after picture.
We show the customer in her current world, without your product in it. Life, a little less than it could be. We then paint the world as it should be. The ideal world, a little better than now–life uplifted.
The big problem stands in between your customer and the better life.
The product isn’t the focus of the marketing. The problem is. The product is just a vehicle to get the desired outcome. We don’t care about your weed killer, we want a nice lawn. We don’t care about your drill bits. We want a hole in something. Or, even deeper, we want the end-result the hole makes.
Your customer will give more of an emotional response to your problem-thinking than she would with your tool thinking.
When we market the tool/product directly, it becomes a list of facts. The emotional side of the equation is removed. We buy with our emotions, so there’s less incentive for us to act now. When we focus on the tool and not the problem, there’s no urgency to purchase.
The customer cares about herself and improving her life.
If she can’t see the problem clearly and understand your product is the best solution to her problem, she won’t buy. When we adopt problem thinking, your competition will be the products she doesn’t buy.
Problem thinking results in better products. When you adopt this business model you’ll have a built-in framework to grow your side-hustle into the future.
August Birch is an author, email expert, and entrepreneur from Michigan, USA. As a self-appointed guardian of writers and creators, August teaches indies how to make more work that sells and sell that work once it’s made. When he’s not writing or teaching, August carries a pocket knife and shaves his head with a safety razor