I read a comment somewhere last week that stuck with me. I should have written down the words and the source, but I didn’t know I would want to quote it. To paraphrase, it said, “People tend to solve problems that they are comfortable with, and often not the ones that matter.” It rang true, as it makes intuitive sense that humans will tend to veer directly into their comfort zone whether in personal or business matters. Organizations, from businesses to governments behave in much the same way. It happens all the time. That thought has been rattling around in my head for a while. This morning I read a blog post from Paul Flanigan on the decision by OVAB to change their name to DPAA. Paul respectfully applauds OVAB for their body of work and then scolds them for tossing their global brand in the dumpster. While I agree with Paul’s take, and that of others that I have seen so far, this is post is not about DPAA. It is about identifying the right problems.
In the case of OVAB, they had clearly struggled internally with the words behind their acronym. The membership apparently felt that it was somehow impeding their mission. Names don’t define missions, actions do. By way of historical comparison, a company called RCA sold an awful lot of televisions in their day despite the fact that the acronym stood for Radio Corporation of America. International Business Machines is unlikely to change their name even though most people call those machines computers today, and the bulk of their revenue comes from software and services. OVAB solved the wrong problem. Their most influential members wanted to lose “out-of-home” and “video” in the name, as it felt too broad. That wasn’t the problem. The core problem to be solved was to continuously enhance the relationship between ad agencies and DOOH networks. A name change doesn’t do that. Adrian Cotterill of the DailyDOOH offers concrete examples of both problems and solutions that OVAB could have dealt with here. All in all, the OVAB/DPAA name change is a classic case of feeling pain and relieving a symptom and not a cause… because that is easier.
Examining two approaches to advertising software for digital signage networks provides another example of problem identification. NEC’s VUKUNET was introduced in November with much fanfare, huge promises and a PR campaign that remains ahead of the results. The product was ambitious, and involved overlaying the VUKUNET software on existing digital signage distribution and playout software, regardless of platform. My opinions are documented and have not changed one bit. NEC assumed that the problem to be solved was one of ad distribution. Never mind that the distribution solution is flawed: the real problem to be solved was ad sales. In contrast, industry veteran Jason Kates over at rVue understood the core problem and developed a real DOOH ad exchange, allowing buyers and sellers to come together to make a deal. Getting the ad to the screen is a simple problem… getting the ad sold is the high value problem. Jason gets it, and he was willing to invest to solve the higher value problem.
As a solution provider, it is easy to get wrapped up in the idea that all problems can be solved with features, functions and prices. But aren’t those easy solutions for a software provider? In many cases, we are curing symptoms without attacking causes, and then proclaiming victory. We would all do well to think twice when we think we are solving problems. Are we solving the real problem, the high value problem? Or are we marching into our comfort zone and solving easy problems? History is kindest to those who identify the right problem and then solve it.