brainblurb – the fools of alexander

The fools of Alexander is the derogatory name used by scholars to describe anyone who has wasted time searching for buried treasure in Alexandria, Egypt.

It is said that in Alexandria everybody has a theory about Alexander the Great and the location of his coffin of “hammered gold”. In most parts of the world, people buy lottery tickets. In Alexandria, they buy shovels.*

So why Alexander the Great? Well, a bit of history always makes a good opening for a blog post and most likely everyone with the name Alexander will click to read this.  However, this blog post is about my thing with the problem “thing”.

Confused? Then read on…

If you are in the startup business CEOing as a founder or in involved in any other form of business interaction providing a service or product you will have come across the thing with the problem.

The “What problem are you trying to solve?” thing I mean.

This is probably the most asked question in the startup environment and you’ll find it the top-left corner of any lean canvas and business case template. Even Einstein (supposedly)  said, “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it”.  So, who am I to argue with a dead genius?

By the way that’s Einstein at the age of 14 in the picture. Relevant? No, but cute. Let’s continue.

I have a problem with the problem because people are coming up with problems to start businesses a bit like the fools of Alexander, wasting time finding the “buried golden problem”  instead of asking what I believe is the far more important question…

“What value is your product/service creating?”

Yes, you could argue of course if you are creating value, you are solving someone’s problem, but there is a slight difference between a problem (negative) and value-add (positive …the “add” sort of gives it away doesn’t it?)

Tesla, Apple, Uber and Airbnb are all in the “problem-solver premier league” when it comes to providing best selling solutions for problems we all have.  Or have we?

Quick question. When you recently upgraded to your new iPhone X you clearly had a problem with the previous model? Or was it that the clever people at Apple created even more value for the new model by picking a number of components from my lovely hand-drawn elements of the value pyramid down below?

You might have also noticed that over the last few years it wasn’t too easy for Apple to add more value to the next model, simply because they exhausted their value-creation fountain.  The only value components left for Apple to keep on selling the next generations of iPhones are not feature-driven but (human) needs driven. Inward or outward focused values such as affiliation/belonging, reward, aesthetics, or badge value just to name a few and you can see how they are now focusing on wellness values.

Guess what, I bet you didn’t know you had a problem with falling flat on your face and thought – “I wish my phone would call me an ambulance? ” But Apple just created value you didn’t know existed.

When Steve Jobs came up with the iPod in 2001 (actually he had the idea to disrupt the MP3 player market but it was Tony Fadell who came up with the actual device) he disrupted the market because of a number value drivers that made us all run to the shops like the lemmings and get our hands on the first device that offered

  • time-savings: transferring thousands of songs with firewire in seconds (ok minutes)
  • simplification and reduced effort: click-wheel instead of plus/minus buttons made it easier to scroll through thousands of songs
  • sensory appeal and design/aesthetics – the feel and touch of the iPod and beautifully simple UI
  • and quality: they just worked (and still do)


I should point out that I drew this by colouring a bitmap on my iPad with the pencil last week (quite therapeutic I admit) but credit where credit is due. This pyramid is the hard work of the good people at BCG and I refer to this a lot. It is also not a coincidence that this leans on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs -“human actions arise from an innate desire to fulfil needs”.  I call this the water and wifi value need:-)

When Musk put the Tesla Roadster on the streets in 2008  it wasn’t that we didn’t have electric cars to take us from A to B. No, they were just pot-ugly with a top speed of a giant Galapagos tortoise that couldn’t get you from your front door to the shopping mall before you had to recharge.

You can argue Elon solved all these problems of range and speed, but so did GM, Toyota and others in the current EV market. What Tesla is really good at is the creation of value and by the way, 10 days ago Tesla outsold Mercedes-Benz in the US for the first time. Boom. Why? Value! The first one to make an electric vehicle look sexy, fast, self-driving and with over-the-air software updates that basically give you a new car every time you have a wifi connection.

Do you remember the nights you couldn’t sleep because you knew you had problem outperforming a Lamborghini Aventador with your 5 seater family sedan? Well, now you can. Problem solved, oh no wait, maybe it makes you feel just a bit cooler (badge value :-)) because you can?

Aaaanyway, coming to the end.

I am not saying throw away all your thinking about the problems you want to solve.  I just want to encourage you to take a mental image of the value pyramid. Have a conversation about the value you are going to create for your customers when you write your business plan or develop your new product. That’s all 🙂

Oh, and the same approach works for any activity really. Time with the family or friends, attending meetings, helping people, yourself (!) think what value you create.

Have a valuable week!

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This stinks – Seth Godin

750 words – It’s about learning a new habit: Writing. Every. Day

The Gordian Knot- The Knot used by Gordius of Gordium to secure his chariot was known to be the most complex knot in the ancient world. Legend stated that whoever untied it would be the greatest ruler of Asia the world’s ever seen. Naturally, Alexander the Great had attempted it at 23. Failing to untie it, he sliced through it with his sword – an incident said to be the moment in history when Alexander “officially” became Alexander the Great.

Photo by AussieActive on Unsplash

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