“Being obsessed with the problem you want to solve, rather than remaining fixated on a single solution, is the major difference between success and failure in the entrepreneurial world.” – Naveen Lakkur, incubator director and author of FOUND

As an entrepreneur, are you focusing on the cool thingy you provide? Or are you obsessed with what your customers – and you — care about?

In all the marketing-speak about “Unique Selling Proposition” and “Product Iteration,” it’s easy to lose sight of what your customers care about: creating a future that’s better than what they have. Your highest calling as an entrepreneur is to focus mightily – to obsess, even — on a part of that future and figure out ways to make it better.

Naveen Lakkur has thought a lot about that calling. I had the delight to meet Naveen and his co-author Liz several years ago at the invitation of a mutual friend, Rajesh Setty.  We shared stories late into the night… loves discovered, accidents averted and not, adventures joined, passions pursued. Naveen can spin one heck of a story, and as an entrepreneur and startup mentor, he surrounds himself with other creative people.

Still, Naveen spends as much time squashing ideas as nurturing them. The art is figuring out which ideas to squash and which to nurture, and sometimes, how to morph ideas from the first category to the second. What’s essential to that process… and so many others we face as leaders… is to be deliberate about where we focus.

The world does not care whether your app has red or green buttons, nifty swipes, cool fonts, or a great API. User experience matters, but only to users. The only reason anyone will use your product is because there is something they care about. If they think you may take care of that concern better than alternatives, awesome. If not, your product is irrelevant.

So, if you can redirect an hour of your attention today… and, truly, you know you can… where will you focus?

Here are a few possibilities:

  • Go observe your customers in their natural habitat. Go to a café, a class, a conference, a rec center, or a party. What seems to animate them, and what seems to frustrate them? What grabs their attention and for how long? How do they interact with their technology and with each other? Other times you go to network and evangelize. Today you go to watch and listen.
  • Draw a Venn diagram of 3 overlapping circles on a big flip chart page on your wall. Label the circles: What my customers care about, What I care about, What I/my company does brilliantly (including partnering with others who could supply critical capabilities). Scribble this up and add to it across a month. Invite your friends and team members to add their notes. What do you see?
  • Seek people who are thinking a lot about your customers and their needs in the areas you care about. Arrange an intro, and ask how they think about the future of those needs. What’s changing and why? What is less likely but might happen, and under what circumstances? Who else seems interested in addressing these needs?

Your aim is to become less attached to your solution-of-the-moment and more focused on real needs of real customers.

How might the future of the world change from where you focus today?

About Pam Fox Rollin

Pam Fox Rollin coaches senior executives and top teams in Silicon Valley and globally. Many of her clients have been rockstars in their functions (marketing, technology, ops, finance) who now want to lead more broadly at C-levels. Her company, IdeaShape, also facilitates strategy sessions, business design and innovation retreats, culture development, leadership development cohorts, and teambuilding sometimes with Myers-Briggs and Enneagram for companies including Cisco, Genentech/Roche, LinkedIn, and Stanford Health Care. A Stanford MBA alum, she comes back to facilitate leadership programs and coach executive education. Pam is always up for a good conversation about what matters to you and your organization.

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