The way a transformational question changes the odds of a big answer is that it shines the klieg light on something we call the problem behind the problem—not the surface level challenge the project was initially chartered to solve, but a big hairy thing lurking behind it in the shadows. More often than not, the surface problem is just a symptom of the bigger one. For instance, where a beverage company once engaged us around the question of how to reignite the interest of 21-year-old guys in a once-hot category on the wane, the problem behind the problem was that the powerful underlying technology platform had been leveraged only against a narrow and fickle segment of society. Solving that background issue would open bigger growth opportunities, and ensure a similar problem wouldn’t resurface in a few years when 21-year-old tastes took their next inevitable u-turn. Finding the problem behind the problem takes some practice, but experience says it’s always there, and solving it does two big things. Since the foreground issue is usually just a symptom, solving the problem behind it makes the first one go away. And since the problem behind the problem is usually far bigger, its resolution opens bigger opportunities. A few examples show how this plays out.
Question Spending We were asked by a bank to frame up an innovative new way to teach people to save more. Racking up savings deposits is a big win, both for the bank on the receiving end, and for consumers’ hopes of a comfortable retirement. Based on prior research, the client team had concluded that the enemy was ignorance—consumers weren’t saving enough because they didn’t fully understand the consequences of not saving: namely, an inability to retire comfortably and retain their homes. A quick glance around the category revealed no shortage of attempts at this same sort of thing—stacks of brochures, interactive tools, seminars and even games. Clearly everyone in the category was having similar conversations with their customers, resulting in similar questions, and similar answers. The un-thrilling truth was that better execution of the same type of answer was the best this project could hope for.