Solving a user problem vs a technical problem: the difference between creating value and wasting your time

What is the kind of problem you are working tirelessly to solve? Are you actually working to create value or simply wasting your time? The difference is in the end goal of what solving the problem accomplishes. Some very big user problems have fairly simple technical solutions. They are easy to use, solve an actual need and fairly simple to interact with. On the other hand, some very big technical problems really don’t end up doing much for the end user. The former gives you something that people want, while the latter gives you an extremely beautiful piece of crap.

Engineers are particularly susceptible to this. It is natural to fall into the trap of believing that just because something is challenging from a technical perspective, it must be a valuable problem to solve. From a user’s perspective, all that’s important is that the product does what it is meant to. “How” really doesn’t matter. If you are selling mousetraps, does it get rid of the mice better than everyone else? If yes, that’s great. Users aren’t going to care much of what happens within the product as long as it works. You can spend all your time trying to create a very advanced, state of the art, nuclear powered mousetrap that creates mini fission explosions to obliterate the mice, but at the end if it doesn’t get rid of the mice, is unwieldy or uneconomical, no one’s buying it. It’ll be an extremely cool project no doubt, but at the end of the day, a fairly useless one!

Every problem that you solve should tie back to the user and/or to enhance their end experience. Be careful of not getting stuck in your own technical world that is insulated from the user completely. Though it does vary by industry, for consumer facing products more specifically – it is the end user who is king. It is easy to get lost in day to day technical, legal, product, financial, investment problems, but if what you’re working on doesn’t help the end user – you’re not moving forward.

Expressed in slightly broader terms, whenever you look at a hard problem, you need to assess its value independently to determine whether it is truly worth your effort. Becoming the top restaurant in the city: Is it hard? Of course! But how valuable is it given that the next 10 best restaurants are almost always going to be head to head with you?

Passionate engineers, by nature, get excited by challenging technical problems. However, take care that you never lose sight of the user so you don’t end up spending all your effort on creating something which doesn’t end up doing anything.

On the flipside, thinking from a user’s perspective brings focus, where the complicated tasks that you were dreading, often no longer seem to be relevant or worth pursuing. It simplifies things! Not everything is wrong with the world… 🙂

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