Are you a problem solver?

Start with a big problem

Time is limited, concentration is scarce and problems are plentiful. So where do you start? You take on the Goliath. Why? Because a solution to a big problem makes a difference. Big problems are like lottery tickets, a high chance of failure, but winning will change your life forever. The challenge is then to better the odds of solving these big problems. Imagine you had a 50% chance of winning the lottery. We want to change risky gambles into sure bets.

Ask the experts

Ask someone whether they are a problem solver and you will be greeted with a list of exaggerated personal qualities. Rather than looking at a problem from the perspective of what you can do, consider the expertise of your team and network. I wanted to create a introduction video for Summi. I asked an expert called George, who completed the video promptly, listened intently for my recommendations and he was willing to experiment. All the things I would not be able to do in the context of video production.

Areas you do feel confident about can be more challenging because your ego is at risk when your chosen expert disagrees with you. I read The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker to enhance my writing, and it was tough. The book revealed embarrassing errors in my writing, dragging my confidence down, yet it was the tough love my writing needed.

Remix and Improve

Apple did not build the first smartphone, Google did not release the first search engine and Facebook did not create the first social media platform. All of these companies built upon existing ideas. When I was thinking about how to format Summis, I took inspiration from email briefings that I was subscribed to, because their strategy was clearly working on me.

Evaluating the strategies, knowledge and perspectives of others and remixing them to fit you or your business means that you can solely focus on improving what is out there and not repeating the mistakes of others. I am not suggesting that you blindingly copy other people, instead take inspiration and try to improve on what is already out there.


Solutions to big problems can often be time consuming and expensive. Worse, spending excessive resources on a solution that does not work is a prerequisite for a catastrophe. Aim for just enough rather than perfect and temporary simulation rather than long term quality. Creating a basic prototype to know swiftly whether your solution will be successful can avert disaster.

Summi had a prototype. LinkedIn articles. I was writing regularly, four months before I launched Summi. That provided me time to remix and improve and gather data on what did well and what flopped more than a fat guy on a diving board.

Small Data

Jakob Nielsen asked himself a question: how many customer interviews does it take to spot the most important problems? Nielsen was the right man to answer his question. He was a user research expert. He analysed his own product studies and counted how many problems were found after ten interviews, twenty interviews, and so on. Surprisingly, 85% of the problems were observed after just five people. The key is to not overcomplicate things. Large businesses can afford complex research projects, not you. Small data could give you the critical information you need, without the complexity.

The prototype mindset

  1. You can prototype anything
  2. Prototypes are disposable
  3. Build just enough to learn, but not more
  4. The prototype must appear real

Jake Knapp

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