Identify Existing Alternatives
When you’ve identified a pain that is shared by a sufficient group, don’t start solutioning yet! There is actually another crucial step. Identify the existing alternatives. If a pain is already perfectly met, it may not make sense to add that new feature, create that new product, or start a new company.
With Emphatic, some existing alternatives were Tweeting just a photo of the book with a caption, typing notes or quotes manually while fumbling with the book, and (for the research paper student) Microsoft Word does have a tool to help with your citations.
Each of these cases are examples of a workaround, since none of them really solve the key pains – frustration and wasted time typing notes, citation grey areas, relying on my brain’s “file system” for tracking and relating insights over time.
If you have ever emailed a document to yourself, that was a workaround. AirDrop is an amazing solution to the specific pain “I want these three photos shared from my iPhone to another device Apple device.”
To find workarounds, you need to take a gemba walk. Go to the place where the pain occurs. Observe, ask questions, listen. The closer you are to the pain you need to solve, especially if it is as critical to you as it is to your customers. This isn’t all user experience fluff. The workarounds and nearly-good-enough products you see today are the “Threat of Substitution” part of Porter’s 5 Forces after the new feature/product/business exists. If you make scissors and someone cannot find them or afford them, tearing the paper is a viable substitute.
The usability and customer interview part of competitive research is both easier and harder than ever due to the internet. Where there is pain that is significant and shared by a group of people, there is guaranteed to be a place on the internet where you can observe what has been said, what people advise each other to do, etc. Don’t fall into the temptation of trusting this as the only insight you need. You need to get involved in the discussion, ask open questions, and listen (even on an internet forum).
As it turns out, Emphatic does have a competitor. Although I had searched for a direct solution to my pains and found nothing, this week while searching for a workaround I found Quotle. This is very exciting. You see, Quotle is exactly what I had initially thought I’d build to solve my pain before I read Rework and Running Lean. It is an OCR scanner for paper books that looks like Instagram.
I had envisioned artistry and community and got a technical proof of concept.
Unfortunately, that’s the disconnect that accumulates into a product/market misfit as a demand to alleviate a pain moves from the user through the stakeholders and Product Owners to the development team and back to the user. More on that later: in the mean time, download Quotle, try it out, and send me what works and what doesn’t work about it. I’ll be asking the same of people at the library.