Stop Providing a Service and Start Solving Problems

by Andy O'Connor


3 min read

Image of target

It is the year 1616, in Southern France. Pierre is a prominent government official, as head of the water infrastructure for the region. The king has commissioned huge fields of crops to increase food for a growing population. The land is too dry to support agriculture, so Pierre commissions a water service to supply to the region. He reports progress to the King "We are now supplying 1000 liters a day to the region", and gets glowing remarks. The land is planted, and the crops begin to grow. However, in the summer weather, the water supply is inadequate for the region, and the crop reduces to a green spot in huge fields of brown. Pierre works harder, and increases uptime of the water services. He reports to the King "We now have 99% water supply uptime" and gets glowing remarks. However, in autumn, harvest time is understandably poor. The King orders the beheading of Pierre. Pierre created a water service, but he didn't solve the problem. Don't be like Pierre. Stop providing a service and start solving a problem.

The Trap

How you measure success is critical for your business, particularly when your organization provides a service.


It is all too easy to fall into the trap of measuring success by a marginal gain such as how much people use the service, or how well you provide the service. If your social media marketing is 'We are the best x in class at providing y' then beware - it is not that simple.


How well you provide a service is not an indication of how well a problem is being solved, and your measure of that service is quite likely a vanity metric.

A Fundamental Problem

The ecosystem may require something different from the service you are offering. Another launderette in a town where there is already market saturation is not solving a problem for the townsfolk. 100 extra houses in a city with a housing crisis is not enough to solve the problem. Your programme provides for 25 people, but there are 250 people (and growing) that could benefit.
Unmet opportunities are primed for an incumbent to tackle the problem, change the market and disrupt in months what you have been working on for years. It is the company that realizes the fundamental problem they are solving, wins at providing the bold solution.
We know the big disruptors like Google, Amazon, SpaceX. Dropbox realized that faster, bigger hard drives wasn't solving the problem of data portability, data sharing and data loss, but their cloud solution did. However there are plenty of smaller examples in local areas too, like a new, healthy cafe that disrupts a town with traditional greasy spoons providing a service. 

Avoid Frustration

It is frustrating to work hard on providing a service when it is not contributing to the overall problem in a meaningful way, so what can be done?
By measuring your services against a fundamental problem, you understand by how much you are solving that problem. This allows you to be be more responsive to the market. You get to understand why a market is declining, and develop more resilient strategies for the company against potential problems. 
If the service that you are providing is not targeting the overall problem, don't despair. You have just identified a HUGE business opportunity for your organization! Identify the primary problem your organisation solves today, and track realistic progress against it. It will be harder than the vanity metrics of optimised services, but it will become the basis of your company vision, and be the silver bullet for engaging customers. The satisfaction of driving your business against a real-world problem will be well worth it!

Don't 'Do as I say, not as I do'

  • Startup organisations are often 'do as I say, not as I do'. Are you an accelerator providing services to 20 organisations per quarter?
  • Are you a government-funded agency in a city with homelessness? How do you measure success?
  • Does your company have moderate employee retention?
  • Does your company market services for its customers?
Stop providing a service and start solving a SMART problem. Your followers will love you for it.
If you have other examples of how solving a problem benefited a company within its market, let us know below. 

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