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  • Writer's pictureJulien Haye

Keep falling in love with the problem, not the solution!

“Keep falling in love with the problem, not the solution!”


I love art and design, and I am always on the lookout for unique pieces, like these espresso coffee cups in the photo – I am guilty of being an avid coffee drinker!


In 2012, I decided that I could fix a problem I was facing: it was difficult to find these unique pieces! And so, I thought I could create a platform that would promote artists and designers and their work online. At that time, remember, Etsy wasn't as developed as it is today; building a website was unaffordable and too complex for most creatives.


It was also a time where from a professional standpoint, I could see myself becoming my own boss. The timing seemed right.


I researched and read as much as I could about entrepreneurship and the art market, I spoke to countless people. I also enrolled into a business mentoring programme to coach small business entrepreneurs on finance and strategy. I wanted to understand how they thought, the issues they were facing, the way they talked. I worked with a photographer and a cloth designer, as well as technology provider to help them set-up and develop their own business.


A few months in, I had written a heck of a business plan, supported with in-depth market research, financial plan, service design and pricing, and go-to-market strategy. And I spent even more time with other entrepreneurs and business angels to review everything, get challenged and mentored.


Within months of launching my business, DesArts, in 2013/14, I had built a social media presence across Twitter and Facebook with over 200,000 (active) followers, featured for free dozens of artists and designers.  Artists started to ask how much the service cost and were willing to pay to be featured on DesArts.


But I said “NO”! And I kept offering the service for free.


My focus, wrongly, was not immediate monetisation. I was by then fixated on building the “Wix” or “Wordpress” for the creative community. Even though the problem I had embarked to address was visibility for the community, and with hindsight I had successfully solved that, somewhere along the journey, it had become about delivering a web platform. It wasn’t any more about the problem I had endeavour to fix; it had become about the solution. And all the problems that came with this technological solution. And there were plenty!


The mantra “Focus on the problem, not the solution” has kept coming back in my engagement with clients and stakeholders of late. Reflecting on some of thorny issues they face, often it turns out the problems are not with the main mission of their organisation, but with the solutions they have implemented to achieve their mission. And like what I did with my business, my client’s focus has become about fixing the problems coming with the processes and systems they run to fulfil their mission.


“So-what” you could ask?

Firstly, they focus on the symptom, not the root-cause. When unpicking the challenges my clients face, it becomes apparent, without fail, that they focus on the consequence of something not going right or absent. I was recently talking to an organisation which had an “issue” with a stale policy framework. But really what they were talking about was the lack of understanding of the organisation’s risk profile and required controls, which translated into inadequate policies.


Secondly, such approach reduces the possible, it narrows the potential solutions to the one in front of us. By trying to fix a solution, we assume the same solution is the best approach to meet our organisational objectives. Back to my personal experience, and with hindsight, I did not need a “Wix” like platform; I simply needed to do more of what I had already successfully done and develop and monetise my social media presence. I had become blind to the obvious!


Finally, it makes prioritisation of resources much harder. And invariably, the organisations I talk to don’t have the resources to deal with everything on their plate. When asked how much of the money they spend on fixing broken “stuff” would help to meet the strategic objectives of their organisation, the answer is very little and usually not directly.


So yes! In the case of my business, I should have focused on monetising and expanding what I already had; not bringing to market a complex “web” solution which had become the sole focus of my time and financial resources and left me very little bandwidth to the delivery of my core mission.


I've learned a couple of critical lessons from this business failure:


1)    the importance of staying focused on the problem, or in that case my core mission, rather than getting caught up in the solution. It's a principle that has reshaped my approach to business and could reshape yours too.

2)    this journey taught me the value of being open to feedback and ready to pivot and the importance of seeking external views. Now, when working with clients, I stress the importance of keeping those feedback channels open. It's about being flexible and willing to shift gears based on what you're hearing from those your work is supposed to benefit.


This mindset, staying focused on the problem and seeking external perspectives, has enhanced my listening skills and my ability to empathise with others. It's deepened my understanding that behind every challenge lies a human element, reminding me to always consider the broader impact of my actions on the community and relationships.


So think about your current projects or business strategies. Are you too focused on the solutions you've created or are planning to create? It's easy to fall into this trap, but the real breakthrough comes from understanding and addressing the root of the problem.


Here's what I suggest: Take a moment to review your work. Identify one area where you might have prioritised a solution over fully understanding the problem. What steps can you take to shift this focus? Maybe it involves revisiting customer feedback, conducting new research, or simply taking time to rethink your approach.


Maybe it involves having a chat outside your immediate area of focus to act as a sounding board. Ultimately, this is what I do with my clients before we “really” get to work when I bring them back to what their organisation is here for and remind them that there is more than one way to meet their organisational objectives and doing so might not involve fixing a broken “solution”. I invite them to stay focus on their goals and prioritising their time, money and resources on what would help to deliver on these goals.

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