Three Types of Problems

People have three types of problems – internal, external and philosophical. Writers, screenwriters, novelists and story tellers use the framework of these three problems to develop their characters. The characters in stories are often complex and that’s what makes them more relatable to the audience. The more the characters seem like us, the more likely we’ll engage with that character’s story. This is how fans are created.

The business book that has been most transformative for me is Donald Miller’s Building a Storybrand. In that book, he outlines a seven part framework any marketing, sales or business person can use to increase their business results. Customers buy products to solve problems – sports and live entertainment solve problems…but how? When fans buy tickets, merch or paid TV packages, they are solving their problems.

External problems are the problems of our space – they are often physical or tangible problems of how we interact with the world. External problems can also manifest themselves as a task we need to perform or in a sports analogy, moving a football across the goal line. In baseball the external problem would be moving a runner to home plate safely.

Internal problems can often be described by the question of “Do I have what it takes?” Internal problems are the battles going on in our head, questions of our identity and the things we want to be perceived as by other people and how we feel. This is the most difficult problem to identify, but also the most important. It is difficult because it can be challenging to be self aware of your own shortcomings or insecurities. By coming up with the words to empathize with the internal problems of your customers you will solve the frustration of their external problem. In sports, the goal is to score (external problem), but the real battle is how a team of individuals can come together to accomplish the goal. Each person is unique, but their own thoughts and feelings about what it means to be a part of team will either bring them together to victory or miserable defeat.

External and Internal problems will get you most of the way to your goals, but to really seal the deal, philosophical problems tie everything together and answer the question why?

Philosophical problems relate everything to the overarching “epic of humanity.” Why does it all matter? This is the epic story of good versus evil. Us versus them. Do they have what it takes to defeat the villain? What is the world like if they don’t defeat the villain? In sports, this is where the inspirational stories of a player doing something for a loved one or an ill fan or a charitible cause really makes the game seem like more than just some people running up and down for a while. This is where sports teams can create community and celebrate what it is that makes their city or school unique. Other artists do this with lyrics, images of certain things that matter to them in society or other actions that make a distinct statement so fans can understand what the artist stands for.

Internal and external problems are mostly about the individual, but philosophical problems connect us to other people. People want to feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves. As an example of this idea, sometimes when I talk to someone about what it’s like being at a sporting event, I relate it to Thanksgiving dinner.

Most people have likely been to someone else’s house for Thanksgiving dinner at some point in their lives. At one of those dinners, you probably didn’t know everyone there (especially if you were a kid), but that seems ok. You’re all there to eat and fulfill a basic human need, but this meal is a little different with a different purpose and intention. It’s about celebrating a cultural event and for most, celebrating gratitude for the blessings one might have. It’s more than just food at someone’s house.

Sports and entertainment are similar – you are fulfilling basic needs (you crave companionship with others and you’re likely eating or drinking something) and at the same time celebrating something with other people who also enjoy the same thing you do. You are participating in a cultural event that connects you to others in a tribe where you know you’ll be accepted. Many events have certain traditions that people enjoy participating in – music, hand motions, dancing, videos, games – things that are familiar and represent the values of that community. Think about the National Anthem before every sporting event – that is a tradition expected at every sporting event across the country. The song itself, the presentation of the flag and sometimes incorporation of military members or other patriotic paraphenalia are all ways we celebrate American values.

People have three problems – internal, external, philosophical. Think about, write about and solve these problems for greater business success. I guarantee it works and have seen results. Reach out if you want to talk about it more – I love exploring these ideas with colleagues! Go Forth.

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