Are You Solving the Right Business Problem? 5 Ways to Get to Question Zero

| By Editorial Staff

What Getting to Question Zero Can Do to Bolster Your Business

Trying to solve the wrong problem is one of the biggest reasons businesses fail. Harvard Business School professor Herman Leonard has an idea that might help.

Leonard believes that most businesses can dramatically improve their chances for success with diligent pursuit of what he describes as “question zero.” In other words, asking the question “why” until you’ve reached the real problem.

Getting to question zero requires a creative strategy. The process can clarify exactly what you are trying to accomplish, and help you create smarter solutions. Results can be surprising; addressing bigger and more important issues than we originally set our sights on.

One of the best ways to approach the process begins with a gap analysis. Identify the problem. (Ask your customers!) Look at internal indicators of trouble – financial, production, design, delivery, communication, employee satisfaction, logistics, sales channels and the competition are all places to consider. Then, dig deep. Brainstorm. Challenge. Keep a wide-open mind. Validate your findings. Make sure you’re matching the issues to the real problem. The answers might be in more than one place.

Here are five questions that can help you get to your question zero:

  1. Does your idea make peoples’ lives better?
    Doing a better job of understanding a problem means putting customer needs above any other consideration. For example, take a look at design from a customer perspective. Look at a typical vending machine. Taking advantage of gravity, the machine drops snacks into a bin at the bottom of the machine. But, why should consumers have to bend down to pick them up? If the machine was designed for the user the snack would be delivered into the snack purchaser’s hand at waist-height.
  2. Does your idea have a bigger picture?
    Even when a problem you’re trying to solve is very specific, it helps to view it in the context of existing consumer behavior.   An important foundation resides in a brand’s narrative – the story that it communicates and why a consumer should care. The role of emotion in consumer behavior is well known. According to an article recently published in Psychology Today, MRI neuro-imagery shows that consumers primarily use emotions from personal experiences when evaluating a brand rather than information like features and facts.
  3. Will time be kind to your idea?
    If you want your company to be around for a while, you need to consider the durability of your ideas. Will the need you’re addressing still be in demand years into the future? How do you expect consumer needs to evolve? Too many companies put a lot of time and effort into an idea, expecting it to have a long shelf life when it’s really only a bridge.
  4. Who do you need on your team to maximize your success?
    What are the skills you need to solve the problem or create the kind of experience you’re targeting? Define those team members. Think about whether you need to bring in a psychologist, an analyst, a millennial, a journalist, a business consultant—or all of them.
  5. Are you ready to improve your idea as you go?
    Be ready to validate your assumption that you’ve found the right solution with more than just internal resources. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but you have to measure its success in the field. The easiest way to get there is to ask. Get it in front of your customers. See what they say and how they behave.

At its most basic, a good strategy solves customer problems. The process of getting to question zero can identify the exact thing we are trying to accomplish and help us create smarter solutions. It allows us to address bigger and more important issues than we originally set our sights on.