My high school in Tunbridge Wells, England, had a litter problem.
As a student, I barely noticed the litter because it felt so normal that empty Chipsticks, Space Invaders, and Wagon Wheels packets were everywhere. Though I did notice the hundreds of carb-hungry seagulls that made crossing the playground after lunch a terrifying experience.
One day the headmaster announced a competition. Whoever brought the best solution to the litter problem would get (I think it was) £200.
I had the perfect idea. What about a bin with a hoover inside that sucked rubbish out of peoples’ hands? People would start to throw their rubbish away because it would be fun to watch the bin inhale.
13-year-old me submitted my proposal and turned up first to assembly a week later, waiting to be announced as the winner. But someone else’s name was called out instead. That someone had suggested that the school just cut a hole in the top of all the unused wheelie bins in the playground, so you could throw your rubbish in them without opening their lid.
Annoyingly, this was a very good solution and it worked very well. Soon there was much less litter. Then I forgot all about the bins.
For some reason, it only occurred to me how good the winning bin proposal was 16 years later. It cost nothing, it took no time to introduce, and it worked immediately. When has any other problem ever been solved so cleanly? Maybe never.
And that’s because people like 13-year-old me ruin everything by interpreting the problem as the one we’d like to fix instead. I wanted to design rollercoasters at the time (though I was too scared to actually ride one), so I wanted my bin to be fun and exciting, like one you’d find in a theme park.
I wouldn’t even consider best solution = less litter. I was so set on fun and exciting = more bin use = less litter.
Nowadays these examples hit closer to home:
- Perfect branding = best content = more customers
- Keeping up with competitors = best content = more customers
- Mega reach = best content = more customers
I find myself taking these types of statements for granted. But until I know what ‘best content’ means to my target audience, they’re just educated guesses (guesses with bias).
Now I start by finding customers’ problems and then build content to solve them. Sometimes they’ll genuinely need all the bells and whistles. At other times they’ll just need a hole cut into the top of their wheelie bins.
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Written by me, Alan*
*Everything on this site is! I focus on the full process behind growing software businesses with content. No skim-the-surface strategic recommendations or out-of-context tactical instructions. Only what you need to know.