Start-Ups: Problem-solvers or Solution-builders?

bluestartuplogoWe usually think of start-ups as problem-solvers. But is that precise?

After two days spent at the Start-Up Weekend Patras, coaching students, last weekend, something became more clear. Start-ups are more oriented in solution-building rather than problem-solving. Maybe you think it’s the same thing? Well, not quite.

Start-ups build solutions so as to go beyond existing problems. That’s true. But their focus is on the solution, not the problem. What start-ups look forward is bringing solutions into life, not exploring problems.

Taxibeat, a once start-up, showcases clearly the difference between a problem-solver and a solution-builder. The company’s moto, “Taxi, as it should be”, implies that taxis are not the way we would like them to be. That’s a fact. And given this fact we choose to put our focus on how taxis should be rather than on why they are not the way we want. In this example, the solution is what leads the plans, actions and development of ideas. If the epicenter was the problem, then the moto would probably be something like “What’s wrong with taxis?” and it would have lead to an utterly different process of thinking and acting.

In the first scenario, attention is put on the development of a solution. What would we like to have instead of what we have now? What are our resources? Are there some positive aspects of the taxi service that we could build upon? This process generates knowledge related to the solution and awareness as to what there is to do in order to get closer to it.

In the second scenario, when the goal would be to find out why the problem exists, the valuable information would be hiding behind a different style of questions. Why isn’t the quality of the taxi services higher? Whose fault is it? Does the Ministry of Transportation hold any responsibility? Why do taxi drivers behave the way they do? Are customers to blame? Here, all information acquired would have been related to the problem and it would have probably lead to different results.

Problem-solving is a widely used practice and obviously not by chance. There must be some true value in doing so in certain cases. But –just like in the case of solution-building- it cannot be a panacea. Maybe, when the path to walk aims in the future, problem-solving is not the fastest track.

During the Start-up Weekend Patras, as a Coach, I didn’t hear much about problems and how they occurred. Instead, I heard a lot of ideas on actions to take so as to move beyond the current state. Had we spent time in problem-solving we would have probably learnt more about what’s wrong. Instead, start-uppers, mentors and coaches, we all learnt a lot about what works already, how we can build upon it and what the available resources are. We tried to define the desired outcome to the maximum. We analysed the solution, not the problem. This way we were enriched with fresh, inspiring and innovative ideas related to what we want and not what we don’t want!

It seems that start-uppers, being more doers than thinkers, have a natural tendency to focus on the future rather than on the past and on what there is to do right rather than on what was done wrong. And that makes sense. To be part of a start-up means to constantly face new facts. You need to be fast and flexible, take the right decisions and know when to let it go, might that be related to your business plan, team or even the concept idea itself. In any of these cases, the shortest path to getting to where you want is to look forward and learn from your successes instead of looking back and try to learn from your mistakes. And this is what solution focus is about and how it is different to problem-solving. In that sense, it might be that start-ups are solution-focused.

So what does your Start-Up do? Does it solve problems or build solutions?


Many thanks to the organizers of the event! Stavros Messinis (Co-founder The Cube Athens), Panagiotis Tsaggas (Co-founder Susurrus), Yiannis Kanellopoulos (Core Member ID-GC), John Sclavos (Community Manager The Foundation) and Yiannis Nikolopoulos (Co-founder Clio Muse).

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