Can you explain to me like I’m a five-year-old, what problem you are trying to solve?

I still remember that scene (or rather scenes) from the 1992 movie ‘Philadelphia’, where Denzel Washington’s character is grilling one of the witnesses on the stand about why Tom hanks’ character was their best lawyer one day, and then the next he was their worst and they fired him. He kept asking, “explain this to me like I’m a 2-year-old”. It’s such a powerful question that forces you to really boil down exactly what you are trying to explain.

So, I’m currently reading “Play Bigger” (highly recommend it by the way), and one of the authors is part of a Venture Capital monthly pitch day, and I want to share the sensational question he asks to all the pitch presenters:

“Can you explain to me like I’m a five-year-old, what problem you are trying to solve?”

I dare you to have a go, spend some time digesting this and applying it to your own business. It’s certainly one of the bigger challenges, and one that brings amazing rewards when you get it right. Seth Godin puts it another way: What change are you wanting to make in the world? This is a change from the way things are done now, to the way they should be done. And this is done by addressing a specific problem or challenge that people face. Your challenge is to provide the best solution to this specific problem.

The Benefits of Answering This Question:

1. It’s a very different take on value proposition

Whilst identical, this approach requires a very different thought process to get to the true essence of why your business exists, and how you can market your business better than your competitors.

2. It requires an intimate knowledge of ‘Who’

Whose problem are you really trying to solve? You must have absolute clarity in who you are doing the work for (and it’s not everybody; it’s not female aged 18 – 60), these are the specific people with a specific problem…. This is your ‘who’.

3. It takes the complex and makes it simple

This question forces you to take what is, for nearly every business, generally a very complex operation and distil it down into something very simple that even a 5-year-old can understand. This is actually a really hard process.

4. It takes the simple and makes it compelling

The next step is how do we take the simple and make it compelling for those you want to change? How do we shout from the top of your lungs that you have a real problem, and we have the ideal solution?

5. It sells the problem first, not the solution

Such a wise man – thanks Rich Mulholland for reminding me of this. Usually, our first focus is to sell the solution which is wrong. Selling the features and benefits straight up never works. It’s like a lucky dip, occasionally you get lucky but mostly you’re just wasting your money. Sell me the problem first, and then I’ll buy your solution.

A business exists to solve a problem

So, what problem are you solving? And explain this to me like a 5-year-old. Go on – have a go, comment below on the problem you solve in a simple way, like I am 5 years old. I’d love to hear what you come up with!

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