Mess Finding

The final sub-blade of the Product blade found in the Windmill Theory of Powered By Change (PBC) is Mess Finding. This is really about identifying what problems or unmet needs exist in an industry that are yet to be fixed, and figuring out how to fix them. However, it is important to remember any product innovation that is designed to fix the problem needs to provide enough value to inspire customers to use it. This is the whole premise of Utility Theory. If a product offers little value or utility, it is not going to be used. In addition, consideration also needs to be given to the number of potential customers that are affected by the mess as this ultimately determines the size of the market available for the product. If it is a niche market as only a small number of people are impacted, opportunities for sales will be small. Conversely, if lots of people are impacted then there may exist a mass market. 

The good news is that messes exist everywhere, in every market, in every industry so there is lots of opportunity available. They range from the trivial and insignificant to those messes that are hugely important. Depending on context, what was once seen as trivial can become significant. A case in point are hygiene and sanitation issues related to everyday activities, such as using petrol pumps or opening doors, that were generally viewed as not that significant but are now hugely important in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mess Finding is vitally important as it enables a company to innovate in an arena where there is already a market.

Once the company has decided whether it’s a candle, a mirror or a combination, and has identified some business models and methodologies that could be transposed; the Product blade is empowered by finding a big fat mess to fix.

To create products that solve a mess first requires an understanding of what the key messes are within the industry. This means there has to be a level of curiosity or desire within a company to actually dedicate time and energy to finding these messes. Actually doing this requires an ongoing commitment to continually look for messes to solve. It is not a one time activity. The reason being is that change is the only constant. Over time new messes will emerge and old messes will become less and less relevant, either because the problem doesn’t exist anymore, or the impact is minimal, or maybe the way in which the problem has been solved is now a hygiene expectation of customers – whereby its resolution is now found in all related product offerings. An example of this is biometric login capabilities in Apps. This was first introduced to deal with the issue of not having to remember multiple passwords or pins to login to different Apps and to make the experience easy. When this was first introduced it was a ‘surprise and delight’ feature. However, now it is an expectation or a ‘hygiene’ factor. 

Once the key mess or messes have been identified and understood, it is time to look at how the company could solve these messes. This presents a massive opportunity for elevation if done well (see the first sub-blade of the first blade in PBC). Finally, there is a need to always be cognisant of impact in terms of new messes we may be creating, whilst fixing others. Then, we should consider how to address any such additional messes that are created. 

Companies that dedicate little time to identifying key messes and truly understanding them, are doing themselves a huge disservice. This is because where there is a mess, there is a market opportunity, and where there is a market opportunity, the ability to generate revenue exists. If companies are not spending time mess finding (or the products that are offered do not solve a mess), those products will not be bought or used as there is no market fit. The upshot of this is a critical reduction in cashflow. 

It makes sense to take the time to identify messes. However, the key reasons why messes are not fixed are commonly due to:

  • A lack of corporate ability to actually fix them. 
  • An unwillingness of companies to take the time to look for messes to fix and truly understand them. 
  • Little to no consideration of new messes created when fixing existing messes.
  • Existing business objectives or corporate objectives that are desperately trying to be achieved but these aren’t necessarily linking the behavioural economics aspects of product creation.

Therefore, actively engaging in Mess Finding represents a source of competitive advantage as many organisations are simply not doing it. 

In starting out with Mess Finding, there are 4 pieces of advice that are important to bear in mind:

  1. Start with the most obvious mess, as this has the most obvious market.
  2. Don’t create more mess if possible.
  3. Modify existing technologies to suit the mess in the most relevant way rather than to try and find cool technology and then search for a mess.
  4. Keep the mess solution remarkably simple.

In the PBC platform we look at how companies are adapting to mess finding and fixing. This also involves considering where they are looking for messes to be fixed and how these can be used in their innovation approach to do that.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Where there is a mess there’s a market. 
  2. Products that are not solving a mess are unlikely to be profitable long-term as there is no real product-market fit, meaning they are not desirable due to lack of utility. 
  3. By solving real world problems (messes) there is a significant opportunity to set the company up for ongoing success.

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