Customer Forces Canvas

Uncover Big Problems Worth Solving

Map insights from customer interviews to understand the causal forces that drive customer behavior.



Used by over a million people.

How do you build a better product?

While methodologies, like the Lean Startup, emphasize starting with an MVP, then using rapid experimentation and metrics for idea validation, success is often predicated on having started with a reasonably good idea in the first place.

Too many entrepreneurs simply throw their half-baked solutions over the fence at customers — calling it an MVP or experiment. But when customers encounter a half-baked MVP, they don’t turn into early adopters or testers, they leave.

We have to level up our game and start with better products.

The Basic Premise

New problems worth solving are created as byproducts of old solutions. With the right framing, you can position your product to be the only viable alternative in your customer's mind -- making the competition irrelevant.

Problem Discovery Before Solution Validation

At the earliest stages of an idea, when you don’t know what you don’t know, you need to employ a discovery versus validation mindset.

Guessing at smaller solutions (or starting with an MVP) is certainly better than spending a year building a perfect product no one wants. But this approach is still vulnerable to the Innovator’s Bias where you simply ask: “What problem could my solution solve?” versus “What problems do my customers have?”

Going fast doesn't automatically get you to breakthrough.

Love the Problem, Not Your Solution

The challenge today isn’t building more products, but uncovering the better product to build — which begs the question: “What defines a better product?” A fundamental mindset shift for doing that is starting with problems before solutions.

Starting with a solution (no matter how small) is like building a key without a door. If you simply flip that around and start with problems, solution building becomes a lot easier, and you actually build keys to doors that take you places.

Problems, not solutions, create space for innovation.

The problem with problems

While the idea of starting with problems is simple, systematically uncovering problems worth solving is quite difficult -- for a number of reasons.

Here are the top three:

  • Entrepreneurs often unconsciously invent or fake problems to justify building their solution because of their Innovator Bias for the solution.
  • If your starting problems fail to resonate with prospects, it’s hard to set up conversations with them because they’re too busy fighting their own “real” problems.
  • You can’t simply ask customers about their top problems because they often don’t know, don’t want to tell you, don’t know what to tell you, or give you a solution instead of a problem.

And here are some more:

  • Open-ended problem discovery, without an anchor or constraint, easily leads to aimless wandering.
  • The same is true with open-ended observation techniques.
  • Too narrow a constraint can miss the mark completely, or lead to a local maxima solution.
  • Leading with problems can put your prospects on the defensive because people don’t like to feel vulnerable.
  • Some products are hard to frame in terms of problems e.g. desire-driven products like video games, fashion, or a movie.

So, is there a better way?

The answer has been staring us in the face...

Meet the Innovator's Gift

Entrepreneurs spend a disproportionate amount of time framing problems in terms of their solution which is vulnerable to the Innovator's Bias.

The secret is framing problems in terms of the obstacles that prevent customers from achieving their desired outcomes with with their old solutions.

The Innovator’s Gift is realizing that there is no such thing as a perfect solution. Problems and solutions are two sides of the same coin. And new problems worth solving come from old solutions.

If you carry this forward further...

Even your awesome new solution, once launched, will spew out problems of it’s own. The key to staying relevant to your customers and defending/growing your business model does not come from throwing more features (solutions) at them, but rather continuously uncovering problems and addressing them — before your competitors do.

This is the essence of Continuous Innovation…And yes, there is a step-by-step framework for doing this…

Applying the Innovator's Gift

The workhorse of the Innovator's Gift is understanding and applying the four causal forces that drive customers to demand and consume products using the Customer Forces Canvas.


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