The 12 Steps to Practical Problem Solving

Paul Polak has been starting businesses since he was 15. He’s now 75. And he has succeeded – and failed more times than he can count.

Here are his 12 steps to “practical problem solving”. That’s what we hope to do for our customers and business partners, yes?

1. Go where the action is. “Spend significant time with your customers. This is how you learn what they need,” he says. Not hours, days. Polak lived with his farmers for 6 months.
2. Interview at least 100 customers a year.
You do it. Not an employee. Listen to what they have to say. “Too many entrepreneurs build the product they want to build — not the one that’s needed.”
3. Context matters. If your solution isn’t right for the context, for example, if it costs too much for the customers you’re trying to serve, you won’t succeed.
4. Think big. Act big.
5. Think like a child.
6. See and do the obvious. Others won’t, which is opportunity for you.
7. Leverage precedents. If somebody has already invented it, don’t do it again.
8. Scale. Your business must have potential to scale. Remember, your market must include at least 1 million customers.
9. Design to specific cost and price targets. Not the other way around. (Celeste: it means — Do not price to your design, design to the price you need to hit to make your product appropriate to your customer.).
10. Follow practical three-year plans. Two years is too short. Ten is too long.
11. Visit your customers again. And again. “Any successful business in this country is based on talking to your customers all the time. A good CEO spends half his time ‘in the field.’”
12. Stay positive. Don’t be distracted by what other people think.

Re #8 – your market will undoubtedly include one million customers. Sound over the top?

Think about why you take your product – YOUR before and after. YOUR hot button. Remember? (See orange book on right rail.) When you get specific about that, you will realize you do have those customers…they just don’t know about you and your product, is all.

You can read more about these rules in Polak’s book, “Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail.

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Kim Klaver

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