Businesses fail when they solve the wrong problem
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On June 9th, amid its falling market cap, StitchFix laid off 15% of its salaried workforce, or about 330 people. While there are macroeconomic forces at play, such as inflation and consumers’ cuts in spending, StitchFix value promise missed the consumer mark. Simply, it has never been clear who is it for and what problem it has been solving (RTR’s subscription, in contrast, delivers on a very clear idea). I have always been suspicious that something like taste, trends, and mood that shape fashion consumption can be codified by an algorithm. Supply of new and appealing items is also always a bottleneck. StitchFix’s extension, Freestyle, proved to be similarly unexciting. Arguably, these costly ventures failed because it didn’t identify the essential challenge their consumers grappled with.
The essence of any given problem, according to Harvard Business School professor Herman Leonard, can be reached through question zero. Question zero is a sequence of “whys” used to get designers through a chain of answers until they reach the actual challenge they need to address.
This analysis continues after the jump.
I recently spoke with NPR’s Planet Money about the economic logic behind Telfar. Listen to our conversation here.
Applied to creative strategy, question zero can clarify the exact thing we are trying to accomplish and help us create smarter solutions. It allows us to address bigger and more important issues than we originally set our sights on. The question zero of a successful creative strategy is to ask what the problem is, why it is a problem and how we can use resources at hand to solve it.
There are five ways to go about answering the question zero:
Humanize it. At the bottom of most problems is a human truth. If we do a better job of understanding it, we can do a better job of satisfying our customers’ needs. Our task is to observe how our customers are currently solving their problems and build a better product or service offering based on this observation. A simple look at our immediate environment offers proof that we are surrounded by things constructed around machine needs rather than human needs. For example, think: vending machine. We need to bend all the way down to get a pack of snacks from it. It is easier for a machine to use gravity to drop a pack of snacks into a bin at our feet than to deliver it at waist-height into our hands. Machine wins, we lose.