Originally Published on ChiefOutsiders.com

Written by Bob Sherlock, a CMO with Chief Outsiders, specializing in B@B and Consumer Durables marketing

“Whenever I run into a problem I can’t solve, I always make it bigger. I can never solve it by trying to make it smaller, but if I make it big enough I can begin to see the outlines of a solution.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

“I realized that my big problem is made up of smaller ones.”

Mike S., an electronics industry product manager

As you know, how you define a problem or challenge greatly affects your likelihood of developing a workable solution.

Let’s say that you’ve decided that introducing a new product or service would be a good way to grow your business, but you don’t have one defined yet—even in concept. Your problem statement might then be “How to identify and develop a suitable new product.” (Note that this problem statement is positive, action-oriented, and specific enough to act on.)

If you find that you can solve that problem as defined at that level—i.e. you can identify a set of realistic possibilities, and can pick and develop a new product or service with a very good chance of success—great! You can conclude that the level at which you’ve defined the problem is useful and probably very appropriate.

But what if your business is struggling to find a new product or service that you would likely be successful in developing and marketing?

Try redefining the problem at a different level.

Ike: Make the Problem Bigger

One good way to make the problem bigger is to ask a “Why?” question about your initial problem statement.

Why do you want a new product/service? What outcome are you envisioning will result from developing a new product? It’s probably to grow sales and profits. So a bigger problem statement might be: “How to grow sales and profits?” That will allow you to generate other possible ways of achieving growth. On the market side of your business, these might include:

  • Discovering new applications and customer segments for your existing offering
  • Finding, messaging and pricing your Hidden Value
  • Improving the customer experience to build loyalty and evangelists
  • Generating and nurturing leads
  • Strengthening your sales force

Try it… does looking at a bigger problem give you ideas that could be more attractive than solving the problem that you don’t have a new product?

Mike: Break the Problem Down 

Think of what’s involved in developing and launching a successful new product/service. It might take:

  • Conducting market research to look for underserved customer needs
  • Seeing what R&D may have cooking
  • Brainstorming to generate concepts
  • Looking for a product or technology you can license from a company or a university
  • Setting up a stage-gate process to winnow and prioritize concepts
  • Building a business case
  • Pilot runs, testing, etc.
  • Building a marketing and launch plan

Assess which of these steps you’re in good shape on—and which will be stumbling blocks unless you can solve them. If your capabilities are plenty strong on all but one or two elements, then you can redefine the problem as “How to develop a marketing launch plan,” or whichever one it may be.