> The Paradox Of Pain > What a P.I.T.A.

What a P.I.T.A.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

- George Bernard Shaw


It’s a pretty simple question. It’s also one that I get a lot. You see, one of the things that I do for a living is I work with would-be entrepreneurs. They are always asking me, "How do I come up with an idea for a new product or service? How do I tell if the idea is any good? How do I convince investors to back me?"

Until recently, I haven’t been able to give them a very good answer. Generally, my advice was that they should talk to people, being creative, think outside the box, and all of that crap. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a little like Microsoft’s technical support – technically accurate but not very useful. As a result, it always led to another string of How's.

Well, I now have a better answer.


You see, while most of the products and services that we use during the course of the day work fairly well, every once in a while we will come across a product or service that can be best described as...

  • Cumbersome
  • Dirty
  • Tedious

...and that make us say things like...

  • There has to be a better way!
  • Somebody ought to invent...
  • What a pain in the ass!

Most of the time, we don’t do anything about it; we just put up with it. There are any number of reasons why we do that, including the fact that, as we grow up, we are told...

  • Be reasonable.
  • That's just the way it is.
  • Don’t rock the boat.

As a result, we learn to just ignore the pain.

However, when we experience a problem with a new product or service, but decide to just put up with it rather than do something about it, many times we are missing out on a chance to create a valuable new product or service.

Look at many of the most valuable companies, products, brands, and industries. Most have been built around pain. I am talking about products and services like...

Federal Express
FedEx made it possible to easily, reliably, and (relatively) inexpensively send a package from one side of the country to the other, overnight.

Lotus 1-2-3
Lotus 1-2-3 made it possible to quickly and easily calculate and recalculate huge tables of numbers.

Saturn took the haggle and the hassle out of buying a car.

The common thread that ties together these products and services is that they addressed a problem that was felt by a large number of people and that was causing them physical or psychological pain. The existence of that pain gave people a reason to change, to stop doing what they were doing, and adopt those new products and services.

That's the paradox of pain.

Of course, it should be obvious that the best way to improve the odds that you will be successful is to do the same thing; to stop focusing on the idea and to start focusing on identifying and solving a source of pain.

By doing that, you will find that your life will be made easier in several ways.

First, it will be easier and more pleasant to sell your product or service and find and sign up customers. You will be able to focus your efforts more on spreading the word about what pain you are solving and less on trying to sell people something.

Second, it will be easier to find people to join your team. Your first sales job is to sign up the second member of your team, and people are much more likely to want to help build an organization if they understand how it will make money and make the world a better place.

Third, it will make it easier to raise money. Most VCs would much rather invest in an idea that is built around pain because that means that a customer base already exists and that those customers are already actively looking for a solution. It also means that people will be more likely to turn into evangelists for your product or service.

Finally, you will be more likely to have a successful IPO. While it is impossible to predict which IPOs will take off and which will flop, in the long run an idea that is built around pain will win out over an idea that isn't built around pain — which is the definition of a fad — every day.

So how can you use pain to your advantage? Well, I have come up with what I call The 8 Laws of Pain.

1. Pain isn't an all or nothing thing.
Instead, there is a continuum of pain that ranges from minor inconvenience to life threatening. Some things, like the ability to pay for gas at the pump, can save us a few seconds while others, like Lotus 1-2-3, can save people hours or days of work.

2. Different people have different pain thresholds.
One person's pain could be the source of another person's entertainment. For example, the earliest personal computers were sold to hobbyists who enjoyed the process of building it themselves. For them, this process was pleasure and not pain.

3. There is a difference between being new, cool, or different and solving a problem.
While the Pet Rock was arguably useful as a personal security device, most people bought one for other reasons.

4. Pain depends on the circumstances.
Abraham Maslow said that we have a hierarchy of needs and that we can only worry about higher-level needs, like self-actualization, when our more basic needs, like food, shelter, and safety, are being met.

5. A great idea eliminates a significant source of pain for a large number of people.
It is possible to make an excellent living by solving a big pain for a small group of people. Just make sure that they are willing and able to spend a significant amount of money.

6. Pain is the key to change.
A new product or service requires that people change, and changing is hard. One of the best ways to convince someone to change is to point out to them how much less pain they would be feeling if they just bought this product or used this service.

7. You need to relieve more pain than you cause.
An idea that is built around solving a source of pain, and that doesn't introduce its own pain, will have a much greater chance of succeeding. One reason that Lotus Notes has been only a limited success is its complexity and the fact that it is such a pain to administer.

8. Watch out for Solutions In Search
Of A Problem (or SISOAPS).
Engineering-driven organizations are notorious for developing and selling products that are technically cool but fail because they do not solve any real pain. The job of marketing is to align the efforts of engineering with the pain that is being felt in the marketplace.

So what does this mean to you?

It means that if you are trying to come up with an idea, you need to start thinking about the pain that you are unconsciously ignoring and try to figure out what you could be doing about it.

It means that if you are working on an idea, then you need to keep in mind both the pain that you are trying alleviate as well as the problem(s) that you are trying to solve. Your business plan should talk about pain and problems and, if you can't identify and articulate the pain that you are solving, then you may need to re-think your concept.

It means that if you are trying to sell a product, you need to stop talking about features and start talking about the pain that your product solves.

It means that if you are an investor, one way to evaluate potential deals is to look at the pain that they solve.

Finally, it means that you need to stop going along with things and instead start cultivating indignation. Make "I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more" your personal motto.

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