The Viable Alternative

Imagine this: you’re trying to solve an incredibly complex, thorny problem for your customers. They’ve told you the solution is to give them A, which is something that you can build pretty easily right now. And they want their problem solved now.

But (there’s always a “but,” right?) … you’ve shown some of your customers what A would look like in practice, and their response was, “That doesn’t make any sense.”

Do you give them A anyway?

Or do you wait until you find B — something that works better to solve their need, even if only in theory or on paper? What’s better: launching something that is half-baked that you’re pretty confident will cause more issues for your customers, or waiting until you’ve got something that’s fully baked that won’t cause more issues?

In an environment where it pays to move, fail and learn fast, it’s tempting to just say you’ll launch and learn. The problem is, though, when you get signals before you even launch that what you’re planning to do is likely to cause more problems.

It’s a false choice to say your only options are to launch A or wait until you’ve got a more fully baked B. There’s another way: find a viable alternative that works now.

How do you find a viable alternative? Try these thought exercises to help you identify something workable:

  1. Can you limit the scope of your hypothesis so only a part of option B could give you the learning you need? Say option A is to go with a high-touch service requiring lots of person-hours at a high cost; option B is a fully automated service that removes the need for a high-touch service. What if you changed the hypothesis so that you could manually fake parts of the high-touch service to validate whether you actually can eliminate the problem in the first place?
  2. Can you re-frame the problem? Customers have identified option A because, in all likelihood, it’s an incremental solution rooted in something they already understand. The problem they’re having, though, is likely novel and requires a stretch in thinking. Shifting how you look at the problem can give you additional alternatives that might not have been so obvious. For example, a 2-sided marketplace like TaskRabbit could try to solve the problem of not getting enough jobs booked by increasing demand; i.e., getting more consumers to post jobs. But they could re-frame the problem as one of supply and instead focus on drawing more high quality Taskers into the platform to drive better conversion and (hopefully) more demand.

Don’t make it a zero-sum game. Look for a viable alternative.