Be a problem finder

Jul 15, 2014 | Better Writing

Become a problem finder

One of my first bosses said, over and over, that he didn’t want me to show up with problems. He wanted solutions, too. That’s a reasonable request for a boss to make. But if you’re thinking about writing for businesspeople, you need to learn to find problems and determine if they’re problems you should write about.

Listen for the pain and puzzlement

When a physician examines you, he or she will ask where you hurt. The doctor may prod you in different places and ask, “Does this hurt?” Business people hurt when they don’t get the results they want. When you hear them or read about them falling short or failing, you’ve got a clue to a possible problem worth writing about.

When you hear phrases like, “I don’t get it …” or “I don’t understand …” you’re hearing clues that can lead you to a problem.

Ask problem finding questions

Once you hear a clue, you can start asking problem finding questions to learn more. Here are a few.

  • Why is this a problem?
  • How many other people have this problem?
  • How much does this problem cost?
  • What would the world be like if we solved this problem?
  • Why hasn’t this problem been solved already?

You can think of more questions to ask.

Finding a good problem is like finding water in the desert

This may seem like a lot of work, but there’s a big potential payoff. Finding an important problem is like finding water in the desert. It’s the kind of discovery that great books are grown from.