Turning pain points into paying points

Where there’s pain, there’s gain


Pain is good. It indicates to us in a very unavoidable way that something isn’t right. On a personal level, that might be around a physical issue, a mental or emotional issue and for a professional or business perspective it could be around a customer / user pain or a team member's pain.

In business, a pain that is left unattended will manifest into something bigger. Be that a customer walking away or a competitor snatching them, a team member leaving or a process breaking down. People want pains to disappear. The bigger the pain the more likely they are to want do something about it, and pay handsomely to have it solved.

From an innovation perspective, pains can simply be solved by either a product, service or process.

You might be thinking then, all I need to do is to identify a pain and then I can laugh all the way to the bank. Well, there’s a little bit more to it than that, yet, you’re 80% further down that path than most people if you begin to actively look for pains.

The big money making ideas often solve a pain that’s not as obvious as we think it is, and they are likely to be hidden one or two levels of abstraction away from the first problem we see.

In this blog I want to unpack the money making way of identifying the real problems people are willing to pay to have solved, and ways to create ideas to solve these money making problems.

If you want to identify and solve the problems that could change your industry and take you to the bank, then read on. You could also watch our video that covers the topic if you prefer.

Pre-work - identify a potential problem

We all have problems, some more than others (myself included), yet when we’re looking to invent a new product, process or service it starts with a basic tenet, “what’s causing some pain?”

To help you start to think of potential pains, here’s a list of some common frustrations that customers often have. If you think you don’t have a customer, you do, they just might be called something different like a stakeholder, team member, a supplier, a manager, a constituent… I’m sure you understand what I mean now.

Areas that your customer may have a pain:

  • price

  • payment methods

  • usability

  • delivery

  • quality

  • environmental aspects

  • aesthetics

  • functionality

  • durability

  • user experience

  • complexity

  • perception of value

  • usefulness

  • reputation

Think of all the things that your customer might want to avoid:

  • embarrassment

  • strenuous effort

  • wasting time

  • loneliness

  • incompetence

  • sadness

  • failure

  • negative criticism

  • being controlled

  • not understanding

  • worry

  • being left out

  • frustration

  • neglect

  • losing money

  • confusion

  • complexity

What are the key frustrations that your own people have about the process, service or product that you produce?

  • emotional

  • logistical

  • economical

  • organisational

Now that we have identified a potential pain point, we want to turn it into a problem statement so that it’s easier to solve.

Let’s imagine we’re an accounting business and our problem is: “No one is buying our succession planning accounting service”. Ouch, that’s an additional income stream that’s not being tapped into. What could we do about it?

Traditionally, most of us would go straight into solution mode trying to solve the problem at hand. The professional innovator however will look at ways to redefine the problem in order to solve it in a superior way.

To help us understand the power of redefining problems, I want to introduce a thought leader from the past, called Gregory Bateson. Bateson was an anthropologist, linguist and social scientist who identified what we call the logical levels. There are various levels of categories that words fit into. On the highest logical level, we have the most abstract level and on the lowest logical level we have highly detailed specific concrete words. For example, a Samsung Galaxy S9 is a smart phone that we can hold and use to call someone, access the internet and do a myriad of other functions. It physically exists today and is a ‘concrete’ concept.

If we were to step up another logical level by asking “what category does this Samsung galaxy S9 phone belong to?”, we might answer Samsung smart phones. We’ve just moved up one level of abstraction and one higher level in our thinking.

If we ask a similar question “what category does this Samsung smart phone belong to?”, we might answer, “smart phones”. Again, we might ask “what category does smart phones belong to?” the answers might be Telephones. “what higher category does telephones belong to?” “A communication system”. “What higher category does communication systems belong to?” the answer might be communication. We have arrived at a very high level of abstraction that gives us a lot of new opportunities to solve problems or create ideas.

To invent a new smart phone, I might start to use this higher level to look at ways to communicate. For example, smell, sound, touch, sign language, morse code and so on. Then I could bring some of these ideas down to the lowest level and look at incorporating them to create more value from the phone. For example a phone that spins clockwise if a friend is calling, or counter clockwise if it’s business call. A smell of roses if it’s a partner calling, or a smell of bubble gum if it’s a child calling.

Stay with me, because this feels a bit out there, yet as Einstein famously said “We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”.

Let’s start with problem redefinition.

FB live week 6 Q1 2019.007.png

A number of years ago, I came across a process by Min Basadur, that helped to show how people could both step up to a higher logical level, and go down a logical level. Most of us stay on the original level that we identify the problem and most scientists and engineers, are very good at going down to a more narrower specific problem that is a lower logical level. I’ve adapted Basadur’s process to make it more effective to capture the ideas. Basadur’s model uses a triangle to indicate the broader type of thinking (abstract) that occurs the higher up we go. I use a table for the sake of easily capturing the ideas and problems.

Remember that earlier on, we identified a problem in our accounting business example. ‘No one is buying our succession planning accounting service’

FB live week 6 Q1 2019.018.png

Step 1. Write out your problem.

Step 2. Raise your thinking a little bit higher and think of a higher category or purpose behind the first problem. You could ask “why do I want to solve this problem?” In this instance a higher broader problem could be “how do I future proof the clients income?”. Write down your broader problem.

Step 3. Now stretch yourself even more and ask, “why do I want to solve this higher problem?” An answer for this example might be that “the client isn’t aware of all the ways an accountant can strategically increase their income”

Step 4. Now it’s time to try to solve the highest problem with some ideas. It’s important to almost forget about the original lower problem. This is what gives you the mental freedom to solve the problem. Some answers might be:

  • publish an article or book on accounting strategies

  • create postcard infographic with strategic model of the month

  • create a compelling intriguing video that captures attention

  • run free Facebook live sessions on strategies

  • create a LinkedIn group on accounting strategies & invite

Step 5. Step down a logical level and answer the next lower problem. In our example, this was “how do I future proof the clients income? Some answers could include:

  • create future business trends chart

  • create a template SWOT map

  • cross promote their business to your clients

  • identify future customers

  • create simple infographic on steps to protect income

Step 6. Now we come down to our original problem and write out some ideas. Some answers could be:

  • create an emotional story to compel them to want a succession plan

  • advise clients know about the succession plan service

  • automatically include the service in contract but have opt out box

  • share success stories of exits

  • share horror stories of no exit plans and fortunes lost

  • create installment plan to ease cash flow pain

  • create a value add if they purchase the succession plan

  • run an event showcasing succession planning

  • run a hot seat webinar working on a real clients succession

  • create a low cost D.I.Y offer so they can do it themselves

Step 7. Come down to a lower level by asking yourself a question such as “what’s stopping me solving this problem?” Write out the new problem you might need to solve. For the accounting example, the obstacles could be that the client has no time to think about succession planning because they are so busy putting out fires from day to day to get by.

The new problem we need to solve is, how to help them put out the urgent ‘fires’. Write it down

Step 8. It’s time to create some ideas too solve this lower problem - the answers might include:

  • create a preventative accounting course

  • partner with an outsourcing business solution

  • partner up with a productivity expert to give a workshop

  • teach them about prioritisation methods

  • create a cheat sheet that identifies key accounting time wasters

  • course on crisis management

  • partner with a business automation AI crew

  • create a set of flow charts to help execution

  • create a template calendar for key accounting activities

  • create a set of checklists/ templates

Step 9. Review your ideas and look at implementing one of your ideas from each logical level or see if you can combine a number from different levels. Look for what’s going to help them be aware of their pains, and what will increase their willingness to pay for your product or service.

Need a bit more convincing? Let’s see how Uber fits:

  1. Original problem - can’t get a cab when I want or need one

  2. Higher broader problem - how to create a pleasant stress free journey

  3. Higher problem - how can I motivate the driver to deliver great service? - Driver not motivated or happy working for such a small amount - Drivers have to work set shift hours

  4. Lower problem - inability to see if cab is available and where it is & to book it

  5. Lower problem - how to track locations & arrival times

Looking for pain certainly creates gain.

If this has been of value to you, you might want to use our free problem redefinition tool to help you out. We have both a Powerpoint version for PC users and a Keynote version for Mac users. To claim your free tool, head to https://www.ideaswithlegs.com/free

Please share any questions if you have any.

Talk soon.



Nils Vesk

Innovation Keynote Speaker | Futurist keynote speaker | Innovation Consultant | Author

Ideas With Legs