How Startups Can Battle “The Shrinking Scope” Phenomenon

The Shrinking Scope

While recently reading Jeffrey Thull’s “The Prime Solution,” which I strongly recommend, I had an interesting thought about the dynamics of creating new products and services.

When you first set out to build something new, you typically start with a problem statement. In most cases, that problem statement is pretty broad. Consequently, the solution you start thinking about and the goals you set for yourself are pretty broad as well.

In the case of Base, it was “make people more productive” and “help organizations sell more effectively and efficiently”. Pretty damn broad.

Then you start to think about potential solutions and what it is that you can do about it.

Almost automatically, the first thing you do is narrow the solutions to your field of expertise and without even noticing, you lose a big chunk of the holistic approach needed to fix complex problems like “making people more productive” or “solving world hunger” on a grandeur scale.

This narrowing is understandable. It’s natural. But, it’s also what creates so many fragmented, partial, and incomplete products that do not end up fixing the original problem they set out solve in the first place.

Right after losing so much context of the original problem statement, you start realizing the sheer complexity of fixing just one small part of the problem. It’s hard. And if you’re like me and the entrepreneurs I know, it starts consuming you further and further until you find yourself spending weeks and months pondering over the layout of a screen or the logic of a specific function. You slowly spiral to an ever-shrinking scope, trying to do the best you can to fix that small little problem once and for all.

Then it comes time for you go to market and try to sell your product. Some people value it enough to buy it. If you did a good enough job creating something innovative and superior, they actually do buy it big time. Everything looks fine and promising.

But then reality hits you in the face and you realize it’s not that simple. Your product only solves one very narrow aspect of this simple but broad problem.

Most companies do not realize this “shrinking scope” phenomenon and continue to look at the world from their own ever-narrowing, tunneled view of the world. Their daily lives are so ingrained in the product or service they are busy perfecting, marketing, distributing, promoting, socializing… you name it, that they lose the ability to step back and see what’s really happening.

But some companies – and the people who are in charge of those companies – do get it.

They don’t get lost in the process of creation and they keep their eye on that big problem they want to fix so badly. Some companies and leaders are so passionate about that stinking problem that drove them crazy that they always ask themselves if their product actually makes the world a better place.

Even with this focus, these companies are not guaranteed success, and they can fail to jump over the many hurdles of marketing, sales, distribution, talent acquisition, funding, and the list goes on and on.

But when they do succeed, it seems like the earth revolves a little faster every time. The car, the airplane, the elevator, Microsoft Office, Amazon, Google, Apple, Uber, and others who grabbed a problem by the horns and took it down. Completely. For 2 minutes. Until people start realizing the world of opportunities that just became possible due to this wonderful achievement of big problem-solving.

My advice – forget what you know about your product for a couple of hours. Step out of your role and think about it in simple terms like how you think about pressing a button and expecting an Uber car to be there in front of you in 50 seconds. Remind yourself what it is that you’re fixing and how to make your customer’s world revolve better and faster.

Think bigger and more holistically. It makes things more complex, but then again, more fitting to our magnificent (yet complex) universe.

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