The Weekend Solopreneur

Issue 22.49

Saturday, December 3, 2022

How to solve a big problem

Big problems are tough to solve because there are too many details. Most of the time we don’t even know where to start, and we know (even before we start) that there are things we don’t know how to do.

Here’s how I solve big problems.

The principle and the technique

The principle is deceptively simple:

The principle: Every big problem is a collection of smaller problems. And those smaller problems, themselves, are collections of even smaller problems. When a problem becomes small enough, we can solve it.

We can use this principle to develop a technique for solving these problems:

The technique: Take the big problem and split it up into a collection of smaller problems. Then take each smaller problem in turn, and split it up into even smaller problems until you have a problem small enough to solve.

The trick is to not dive into details. All the details together are just too many to solve at once, so we have to focus on smaller collections of details.

To make this real, let’s use the problem of building a business.

The big problem of building a business

We only really need to do two things to build a successful business:

  1. Build a solid foundation for our business
  2. Market, sell and deliver our products or services

Now before you get all excited and tell me that’s just too simple, remember the principle and the technique:

We’ve just taken one big problem (build a business) and split it up into two smaller problems. These problems are still big problems, so we have to break them down into smaller problems.

So let’s go one level deeper.

Smaller (but still big) problem 1: A solid foundation

A solid foundation for a business consists of three parts:

  1. Pick a niche
  2. Design a brand
  3. Decide what you’re going to sell, and build those products or services

Now the problems begin to seem a little easier - these three things are not that big any more, and you may even feel that you can do some of it.

But we can break these three problems into even smaller problems.

Even smaller problem 1: Pick a niche

A niche is a very small, well-defined target market where we solve a very specific problem. So we can break this “even smaller” problem into a small number of questions:

  • Who is my target market?
  • What problem am I going to solve for them?

If you can answer these two questions, you’ve solved “even smaller” problem 1. Let’s move on to the next one.

Even smaller problem 2: Design a brand

There’s a lot to branding, but as a solopreneur you can get away with very little:

  • A logo (in various sizes, suitable for light or dark backgrounds)
  • Fonts (web and printed)
  • Colours (primary, accent, and so on)

If you’ve never dipped your toe into the deep waters of branding, these problems may seem difficult. But they’re a lot smaller than “build a business”, and with some research you could solve them pretty quickly.

Are you getting the idea?

We’ve taken the big problem of building a business and broken it down into two smaller (though still big) ones. Then we’re breaking down these two into smaller problems, and again, until we get to the point where we feel we can solve each individual problem without having to break it down even further.

You can apply this same technique to almost any “big” problem. Here are a couple more examples:

International relocation

If you’ve ever relocated internationally, you will know it’s not easy. But we can immediately break this down into smaller problems. Let’s assume you know where you want to go - now you have to figure out:

  • How do we get into our new country (visas, residence permits, etc)?
  • How do we get our stuff there?
  • What will we do when we get there (new job)?
  • How much will each of these things cost?

Here’s the next thing you need to learn about this technique:

It doesn’t matter that much how you break up the “big” problem, as long as you break it up into smaller parts.

Along the way, you’re going to discover more things you need to solve - and that’s OK. Big problems (almost by definition) contain unknowns. You will discover these as you go along, and add them to the “big”, “smaller” or “even smaller” list of problems you have to solve.

One more example.

The “big” problem of building an online course

Building an online course sounds like a really big problem - and it is, the first time you do it. But every time you do it, it becomes easier.

Here are the sub-problems you have to solve to build an online course:

  • What will your students be able to do (or know) when they’ve completed the course? (These are the learning outcomes.)
  • What’s the first thing they will need to learn? And the next? And after that? (These are the lessons in your course.)
  • What content do you need in each lesson, and wow can you best teach it? (This is each lesson’s content.)

And then of course there’s the other “big” problem of marketing and selling your course - you can apply the same principle and technique to that too.

So how do you solve the big problem of building a business?

If you’re familiar with my work, you will know that the Tornado Method is a framework of 11 elements in 3 groups that contains everything you need to build a business.

I started explaining how to build a business above - the breakdown I used is based on the Tornado Method. Start with the solid foundation (the Building Blocks in the Tornado Method), then move on to the Revenue Engine (Marketing, Lead Nurturing, Sales and so on).

Check it out - I hope it can help you too.

One lesson I’ve learnt

The most important lesson I’ve learnt that helps me solve “big” problems is the following:

Don’t worry about the details - yet. Accept that there is a lot of details that have to be solved, but you will get to them after you’ve broken the big problem into smaller ones, and even smaller ones.

Hope that helps.