If you are working on a new idea, focus on the problem more than the solution. Why?
Focusing on the problem gives you the space to remain unattached to your solution. Often we as humans get attached to what we create; aka solutions. Focusing on the problem allows you to keep yourself detached long enough so you can thoroughly explore possible solutions.
Focusing on the problem first helps you explore if other people have tried to solve in the past in different ways. To really solve a problem well, one will (and should try to) encounter as many different solutions as possible and understand their pros and cons. The idea of course is not to get into a mad hunt of all possible alternatives, but is more to remain open to multiple solutions that you come by.
Focusing on the problem helps you focus on the user. One asks deeper questions about the user – are there sufficient number of people who have this problem? – Is my solution approach going to help all the sections of users that have this problem? – Can I discover other types of users that have the same problem? – What are the parts that are harder to solve and the parts that are easier to solve?
Finally, understanding a problem well is a good reality check. It keeps you grounded during you long and tiresome solution design process and also helps you stand your ground when people test the validity of your idea at a later stage.
By the way, sometimes it hard to define a “problem”. Sometimes people tell me that all new ideas do not spring from a “problem”. Facebook, for example, is a very successful solution that solves a problem people never had. I would beg to differ. Facebook’s mission is “to give people the power to share and …… stay connected with friends and family.” Staying connected with people you know is a strong NEED which can very well translate as the problem Facebook is trying to solve. Sometimes NEED is a more correct word than PROBLEM. But PROBLEM works in most cases. So remember to focus on the problem the next time you work on a new idea. And yes there are many many problems in the world that are calling to be solved. World hunger, working with remote teams, failing software projects, inexpensive last mile on-time delivery, agriculture’s dependence on natural irrigation, mankind’s never ending need for energy, wastage of energy. The list goes on and on. Have fun solving problems!