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Why Marc Andreessen is a great design thinker

Yesterday I listened to Marc Andreessen’s essay on “It’s time to build” and it struck me that he is a great design thinker at heart

In his essay, Marc talks about the different reasons why we are handling the current coronacrisis so badly, while we could have been prepared for it. He points out why the mechanisms for distributing and producing the basic needs for handling a crisis like this, including medical protective equipment or simple ways to get money to the people who need it most, are not there. Why don’t we have these things in place?

He formulates the point with a great sense of urgency using simple observations. But halfway in, on 7:28 to be specific, he says something truly remarkable.

The number one reason, for why we don’t have these things is not our inability to make them. Our capacity for producing masks, protective gear, and digital tools to distribute money fast are not rocket science. We simply didn’t build these things because of one reason:

Human desire.

And this is why Marc Andreessen is a great design thinker.

You can have wonderful ideas, have all the resources and energy to turn them into a reality. You can innovate and create new products or systems you think the world needs. But if people don’t actually long for it, then what’s the point?

When people don’t have a desire for something, you can’t sell it to them. They are simply not interested and will never buy use or talk about it. What they will buy are the things they need. Things they want. Things they desire.

The whole point of design thinking is making things people want. Not making people want things.

And Marc gets it.

In business, we often forget checking off the ‘human desire’ box, in the problem-solving process. Sometimes we are overconfident about our ideas or sometimes we simply forget. And when we do manage to involve customers, we mostly look to confirm the things we already know.

Most of us are great problem solvers but very bad at framing the problem right.

For example problems in spreadsheets are not human desires. Problems in spreadsheets are mere indicators of underlying problems. A hint to where you can look for the real problem. To understand why it’s a problem, for as long as we are human, the easiest way to find out is by talking to people. Asking a bunch of questions, to see if there is one. But instead of doing that, we just jump straight into solution mode. Crunching more data, to make sure the numbers are correct, or at least confirming the things we want them to confirm, and off we go: solve the problem we think the data suggests there is.

If you look at the thing you are working on right now, how certain are you that your idea, your new solution is something people actually desire? Even if it’s a big profitable thing (according to your spreadsheet) and you have the resources to design, develop, and bring it to market, still people must have a desire for it.

I remember when we released a feature to help people create their first journey map for them — we thought it would help a lot, but it turned out nobody needed it. People just wanted to know what a good journey looked like, so they could use TheyDo to make it themselves. We obviously wanted more customers to use our software, but our customers didn’t want to use it that way.

Reframing the business need as a human need would have saved us substantial energy and resources.

By the way, sometimes it is actually more effective to skip asking people what they want at first. Think Henry Ford. But what you can’t skip is validating the human desire, during the creative process of solving the business problem. If you do it after the launch, the release or the big announcement — you might be too late and valuable energy and resources are already used.

Every human being is a great problem solver. Everyone can think like Marc.

The only thing you need is a little reminder every now and then to know what problem to solve in the first place. A reminder that keeps your ideas in check.

So tomorrow when you go back to work, do you dare to ask your team the simple question: do our customers have the problem we’re trying to solve?

 


 

Marc Andreessen is one of the founders of A16Z and probably one of the most influential people in Silicon Valley. His Wikipedia page says it all.

Full podcast & transcript here: https://a16z.com/2020/04/18/its-time-to-build/.


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