Solve the Right Problems

Tired of having to carry around a bottle of ink just to sign legal documents, W. B. Purvis invented the fountain pen. He didn’t shop around for a solution; he invented the solution. The solution was in the problem itself: the body of the pen became the vessel in which to carry the ink. In almost every case, the constraints of a problem always end up presenting the solution. And if you can find the right solution to the right problem, you have a business on your hands.

TerraCycle is a great example of a company saw a problem, and turned the problem into the solution: waste. Their first product was a garden fertilizer that was produced by collecting garbage from school cafeterias, feeding it to a bunch of worms on a conveyor belt, collecting the byproduct, and packaging it using thrown out soda bottles. The problem of waste became the solution, and turned into an eco-business success story.

Not all problems are worth solving. I once saw an invention where a guy figured out a way of converting a game console controller to be used a keyboard device on a computer. I think we can all agree that this is not going to be a hot selling holiday gift. I’d rather be shooting zombies with my game console than spending an eternity trying to learn how to tweet my friends using a game console controller.

Being an inventor is about solving problems. Being an entrepreneurial inventor is about solving the right problems. W. B Purvis knew that having the ability to write anywhere at anytime was a problem worth solving, and didn’t waste time waiting for someone else to come up with a solution. TerraCycle knew that figuring out a way of profitably reclaiming waste for was a worthwhile cause, and became a model for other eco-businesses. Being successful is not just about solving problems; it’s also about knowing which problems are worth solving.

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