Building products is not about solving problems
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The problem is never the problem.

I started as a graphic designer before slipping in the profession of being a filmmaker. But at the very core, I realised, I was doing the same thing. Telling stories.

Being a designer helped me a big deal in understanding the language of visuals to tell stories and so did telling stories improve my design sense.

When it comes to the business of filmmaking, I realised a very important distinction between our industry and every other industry. We sell stories, while other industries sell products.

There is a reason the film or gaming industries have ‘fans’ and other industries have ‘customers’.

My latest fascination has been product design and innovations that would impact people’s life in meaningful way. And a product is only useful as much as it’s users engage with it. But is interaction enough? What differentiates good product from great?

All great stories have one thing in common.

Absolute engagement, in mind, body & spirit from the audience.

And so is the case with every great product. Great products tell stories, they don’t solve problems.

Let’s look at the meaning of ‘problem’? The meaning on Google says,

a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome.

When you ‘perceive’ a certain situation or solution as unpleasant, it becomes a problem. It is all about the perception.

As Rory Sutherland tells a story in this TED talk about how Eurostar spent six million pounds to reduce the journey time between Paris and London by about 40 minutes.

The genius solution from this ad-man? Give free WiFi for 0.01 percent of that cost and make the journey more enjoyable. Or maybe, at 10% of the cost “ you could have paid all of the world’s top male and female supermodels to walk up and down the train handing out free Chateau Petrus to all the passengers. You’d still have five [million] pounds in change, and people would ask for the trains to be slowed down.”

When Henry Ford created cars, he knew people wanted faster horses and not cars. Not having a car was never a problem in people’s “perception”.

But owning the car did tell a story about the person who owned it. And that gave Ford the early adopters he needed.

Owning an iPhone tells a story about that person. When was the last time owning an Android phone made you feel special? People buy an iPhone, even when Android gives you greater control.

And Apple knows this well,

If you don’t have an iPhone, you don’t have an iPhone.

Telling stories is simply an art of selling an “idea” to an audience’s deepest desires and aspirations and they will pay you back with their emotional and psychological investment. And money is only a part of it. The point is, is your idea worth telling a story about?

Just like products & startups, we have tens of thousands of movies coming out every year. The ones that you hear about don’t even amount to 0.01% of all the movies that come out every year. In 2014, Sundance Film Festival received 12,218 films in one year alone. Out of these, 98.5% of films got rejected! And this is only in one festival.

The point is, is your ‘idea’ worth telling a story about?

As James Altucher mentions brilliantly in this blog,

Ideas are the currency of the 21st century, and their value is inflating, not deflating. I don’t care about the dollar or gold or health care. Any movement in those will just create opportunities for people who know when to take advantage of them. The key is to become an idea machine.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk had the idea of making affordable electric cars available to the mass market but Tesla’s first car was not even close to solving that problem. The Tesla Roadster was made as a luxury car for the elite class, who could afford to buy a not so perfect luxury car that would tell a story about themselves. And that’s the whole point.

Sometimes, our initial products/prototypes might not solve the big problems or fulfil our grand visions. But if you look at it as a story and not as a solution, the unrelated essentials become a part of the process.

Like all good writers know, the first drafts are always the shittiest, but that’s the only way to arrive at a great story. It’s part of telling the story.

Like any storyteller, you have all the right to expect your audience to be absolutely engaged in mind, body & spirit with your story. The point is, is your ‘idea’ worth telling a story about?

Telling stories is hard work, selling products is not.

It involves telling stories with your product, your design, your technology, your processes, your customer support, employees & your decisions. Telling stories is not a thing, it is deeply rooted in your culture and the way you think & take decisions.

It forces you to bring context to your product and brand in a way that could connect with the people. It is not about being different or catchy or witty, it is connecting with people and letting them know that you understand.

As entrepreneurs & creators, we have to face our deepest fears and vulnerabilities to tell a story that is truly worthy. Because a story demands you of the depth and dedication that could possess you & intoxicate you.

And if telling stories drive you, a great product is just around the corner.

What’s your story?

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