This time last year, trying to be clever, I used “MacGyver” in my LinkedIn profile headline. I did it specifically because I saw myself as a “resourceful problem solver” who could help a client identify their “pain points” and create solutions to overcome them.
Since then, I’ve come to realize that I have no interest in being a problem solver.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow is famous for a quote you’ve probably heard in some form or another: “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” This is now considered a standard cognitive bias that’s referred to by many as “Maslow’s Hammer.”
And I’m sorry to say I’ve been guilty of this.
Because the thing is, when you build your business around helping people resolve their “pain points” … then all you start to see are people’s pain points. Every potential client looks to you like a thing that is broken and needs fixing.
Which, by the way, is perfectly reasonable if you are a plumber or an auto mechanic who literally fixes broken physical things for a living. But if you’re a marketing professional or a web developer or a business consultant, then framing things in this way can become a pair of blinders, skewing and limiting your perceptions.
What if, instead of a business asking itself, “What is the problem I’m solving for people?” it asked itself, “What is the opportunity I’m creating for them?”
What if, instead of identifying and leveling a finger at “pain points,” we spent our time identifying and highlighting “growth points”?
After all, when you think about it, a “problem” is really nothing more than the prologue to an opportunity. As a writer, I know this dynamic all too well. The plot conflict (or problem) needs to be there in the story to provide the opportunity for a resolution and thus for the reader to feel satisfied by the ending.
In other words, it’s a device. A tool. Like a hammer.
The difference between a problem and an opportunity is that the one carries with it a negative connotation and the other a positive. Nobody wants to have a problem. Or to be a problem. We prefer the feeling of being weeks or even years past a problem, when we can see it for what it was: a stepping stone to an opportunity.
Problems and “pain points” are stress-inducing and backward-facing. They are the result of something that happened in our personal or business past that hasn’t resolved itself. They are what Ebeneezer Scrooge might have called “an undigested bit of beef [or] a fragment of an underdone potato.”
Opportunities, on the other hand, are hopeful. They are aspirational. They point forward. They are the pages of our story that have yet to be written.
If I look at a client’s website and I can see that it is, objectively speaking, a bit of a mess — with unfocused or nonexistent messaging and an unprofessional design — then I have a very important choice to make …
Do I sit there and list out for them every single thing that’s wrong with it? Make them feel small and stupid and maybe a little cheap for not spending more (or any) money on it? Try to position myself as the hero who will swoop in and save the day?
Or do I focus on what’s right about it? Do I look at everything that’s there, messy as it might be, and try to find the story in all the noise? Do I try to see beyond the clunky design and the endless bullet lists of features and the possibly bad writing to the underlying value of the business, the service, the product, the brand, and the people behind it?
And having found those things, do I envision what might be, and help the client see it too? Help them identify their “growth points” and bring that story to life?
This, I have decided after some soul-searching and consideration, is my calling from now on. Not to be a problem solver … or the Tylenol for somebody’s pain points … or their clever MacGyver in shining armor.
But instead, to fully embrace my calling as a storyteller.
And as a storyteller, a writer, I know better than anybody that the words we choose matter. The details we choose to focus on matter. The tools we choose to wield in our quest to build our client base and to do business matter.
Going forward, I vow to choose the pen over the hammer. Creation over criticism.
So if you’re tired of being told that whatever you’re doing to market yourself or your business is wrong, then drop me a line. Let me tell you everything you’re doing right. And maybe together, we can write the way to your happy ending.