Thursday, August 23, 2012

Don't build a solution and find a problem

I want to share three stories.  They are loosely related.  First is creating a mnemonic phone number.  Second is building a predictive mobile keyboard.  Third is a lesson from Steve Jobs.

1. Creating a mnemonic phone number

Everyone must have seen 1-800-dentist commercial.  Mnemonic phone numbers are easy to remember, nearly impossible to forget.  For that reason people pay premium to get a catchy mnemonic phone number.  

Now, question arises.  Everyone has a phone number or two.  Why buy mnemonic phone number when you can create mnemonic that fits the number that you have?

There is a simple reason.  Most phone numbers have no mnemonic at all.  You can try your luck with your own number at  You would be quite lucky to see anything more than 4 letters.

2. Building a predictive mobile keyboard

Half of U.S. population have a smartphone.  We type SMS, email, and Facebook status updates on our iPhone or Android phones all the time (even while we are driving).  Most of us had reservations about getting used to touch screen keyboard, but we invested the time and somehow learned to live with it.

The cool factor of smartphone masked the problem of not having full keyboard access.  Well, someone noticed the problem and did something about it.  Check out

3. A lesson from Steve Jobs

"When you start looking at a problem and it seems really simple, you don't really understand the complexity of the problem. And your solutions are way too oversimplified. Then you get into the problem, and you see it's really complicated. And you come up with all these convoluted solutions....That's where most people stop...  The really great person will keep on going, and find... the key underlying principle of the problem and come up with a beautiful, elegant solution that works."                                         
                         - Steve Jobs 

Steve Jobs is saying that most problems are complex.  Complex enough that there is only a handful of solutions that really work, just like handful of phone numbers have good mnemonics.  So it is vitally important that you clearly understand what problem that you are solving.

Not all problems are obvious.  Just as iPhone touch screen keyboard revealed the challenges with using touch screen keyboard, often times problems are unknown until we solve the first problem (in iPhone example, introduction of iPhone).  Add to that, many just work around the problem and don't realize there is even a problem.

Find a problem first.  Analyze it, understand it, dig into it.  Then and only then create a solution that solves the problem.

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