The problem is the most essential element of every story. Without it, there is no tension between the characters. Without it, there is no drive for the hero to go on a journey trying to solve it.
In other words, the problem is the reason the whole story happens and it can be internal and external.
Internally, the hero doubts that she has the necessary skills, knowledge, money, people, etc. to solve the problem.
The hero is fighting an ongoing internal battle of doubt towards herself.
Externally, the problem is easier to define since this is one of the following: another person, a group of people, nature or even technology.
The hero finally solves the problem when she has a realization. Allowing her to overcome her internal problem, which gives her the confidence to develop the winning strategy.
She can now move on to defeat the villain, and with it, the external problem.
But more and more, we see there is a third dimension to the problem. A less tangible one but, one that brings the whole story together for us.
One that makes all the difference between a nice story and one that pulls you in all the way until the end.
And nowhere is this 3rd dimension more important than in business. Because here, solving makes all the difference between making money or not.
The Problem & Business
Understanding the problem you solve is key if you are to truly help your customer with your product.
Because at the heart of every business, there is a customer in need of solving a problem that doesn’t let him be at peace.The problem is the reason your customers end up at your doorstep.
And according to Donald Miller from Storybrand, every problem happens in 3 ways. And it’s only when you solve all 3 levels that customers give you their money.
Every problem is external, internal, and philosophical.
The External Problem
The external is the most obvious one, the easiest to define and the clearest of the 3.
Whether the person needs a product or service, the external problem is clear and thus the solution also is.
For example, let’s say your car broke down and public transportation in your city sucks but, so, you need a car to get to work.
In this case, the external problem is clear, you need a reliable, safe way to get to work. Since public transport is not an option, the only solution is to get your own car.
External problem: you need a convenient way to get to work.
Options: public transport, walking, bicycle, ride-sharing, your own car.
The solution: own a car.
Ok, so you decided to buy a car, but which one?
The Internal Problem
The internal problem is not tangible. This is the internal battle that the hero must overcome to solve the problem and it happens in his mind.
So let’s continue with our car example.
Let’s say that because of Climate Change, you’ve tried holding on buying a car because you don’t want to pollute.
Now that you need one, you are struggling internally with the idea of owning one, and let alone using it daily.
So you are torn.
But you continue searching for a solution. Finally, you discover that electric cars exist (the realization)
Now you can get a car that doesn’t pollute.
Internal problem: you don’t want to contribute to climate change. You need a car that doesn’t pollute.
Options: gasoline cars, electric cars.
The solution: getting an electric car.
With the internal problem solved, you can move on to solve the external one.
So, which electric car will you buy?
Is it a Toyota? Ford? Renault?
Well, it’s not that easy.
The Philosophical Problem
The philosophical problem is the least tangible of the 3. To the point where the majority of times the customer doesn’t even know is looking to solve it.
And to that extent, many businesses also don’t have a clue it exists, let alone, that it needs solving.
Or even how to solve it.
And although I answer this in a future lesson, let’s continue with our car example.
Let’s say you are an entrepreneur who loves exciting products. Products that disrupt industries while improving people’s lives.
You love technology, you are an innovator and always try to get your hands on the newest items.
You look around the market and see a company that seems to believe in challenging the status quo like you.
A company that envisioned a different world and has been pushing to make it happen.These guys even gave away their patents to help competitors speed up the process of developing electric cars.
And that speaks for itself.
What is even crazier is that it wasn’t Toyota, Ford, or Mercedes, it was a small company that came out of nowhere.
In a David and Goliath style, this small startup stood in front of giants and challenged them.
And as an entrepreneur, you know what that is like.
So you are automatically drawn to them, after all, they believe what you believe.
You don’t know why but, it feels right. So you decide you want to be part of that story.
You’ve made up your mind, you have found the electric car you want to get. It’s a bit more than others but, it’s ok.
It doesn’t matter because this car defines you. It tells the world who you are.
I’m talking about Tesla.
Philosophical problem: you believe in doing what’s right even if its the hardest. You believe in challenging the status quo with innovative products that improve lives.
Options: electric cars from BMW, Chevrolet, Ford, Renault, Audi, Tesla, etc.
The solution: getting an electric car from Tesla.
You didn’t even consider the other brands. They had their chance to prove themselves and they didn’t.
Now you see through them. They are playing catch up because their business is shrinking.
The philosophical problem is the ultimate reason that pushes your customer to choose the winning product.
What The Philosophical Problem Solves.
A while back Seth Godin told us that in today’s world, you no longer get to tell your story, your customers are the ones that get to tell it for you.
And the existence of the Philosophical Problem shows us that.
The products you buy, you buy them because they help you tell your story.
It’s not about the product itself, it’s about what having the product says about you. When you show up at a cafe with your new Macbook, what does that say about you?
When you show up at the gym with your new Nike shoes, what are you telling others?
You buy the things you buy because they are aligned with your philosophy. That is why you see communities build around similar products, attracting similar types of people.
That’s why you see that people who buy Tesla, may also buy Apple products, and behave and dress a certain way.
The products may change. The external and internal problems may be different in each case but, the person’s philosophy remains across products.
So How Do You Solve The Philosophical Problem?
You do it by taking a look inside. By understanding your own philosophy. As the founder of your business, your philosophy is the driving force behind it.
There is no way that you can adapt to each person’s philosophical problem.
So without the fear of alienating customer segments, you define your own philosophy. With your philosophy defined, then you express it in everything you do.
Those that connect with it will be attracted to doing business with you. See where they are coming from and turn up the volume.
Make It Happen
Have you identified your business philosophy? Or your philosophy? Or that of your customers? Well, it’s all the same.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this, whether you have figured out or just heard about it for the first time.
Please share it in the comments below.
Embrace it, share it, own it!
All the best,
PS: If you know somebody who is working hard to grow their business, feel free to send them this post.