“There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” — Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart
One of the most important mental models I learned at Microsoft to solve problems that people pay for is simple:
Pains, Needs, and Desired Outcomes.
I’ve used the Pains, Needs, and Desired Outcomes framework to lead innovation and drive millions in business growth around the world at Microsoft.
Pains, Needs and Desired Outcomes Builds Deep Customer Empathy
The Pains, Needs, and Desired Outcomes framework works because it forces you to focus on the customer’s problem in their language.
The approach is simple:
Create a story in the first person of Pains, Needs, and Desired Outcomes.
Pains and Needs help you connect with and build empathy for the Current State.
Desired Outcomes helps you connect with a desired Future State.
It sounds simple and yet very few people master it.
It’s why there are so many hammers running around looking for nails.
It’s why so many people are solving problems that don’t exist.
Or solving problems that people don’t pay for.
Pains, Needs, and Desired Outcomes separates the best innovators from the rest.
The ultimate irony is that even when I teach it to people, they may be so solution focused or future oriented that they completely miss connecting with the people they think they can help.
In many ways, Pains, Needs, and Desired Outcomes is the ultimate tool for deep empathy.
And deep empathy is the key to better leadership, better innovation, and better results in work and life.
The Pains, Needs, and Desired Outcomes Canvas
Here is the basic template for the Pains, Needs, and Desired Outcomes framework:
Here is a simple example of the Pains, Needs, Desired Outcomes framework:
You can think of them as Pains, Needs, and Desired Outcomes Cards or the Pains, Needs, and Desired Outcomes Canvas.
Yes, it looks very simple.
I never would have imagined people to struggle with it, but they do.
They struggle because they have to actually learn the customer’s language for their pains, needs, and desired outcomes.
But that’s the stuff that business growth is born from and it’s the fuel for great innovation, large and small.
Why Master Pains, Needs, and Desired Outcomes
Mastering pains, needs, and desired outcomes is crucial for success in various fields, especially in business, product development, marketing, and personal growth.
Mastering pains, needs, and desired outcomes is how you create a more empathetic, effective, and customer-centric approach, whether in business, personal endeavors, or service offerings.
This understanding leads to better product fit, higher customer satisfaction, and ultimately, greater success in meeting both market demands and personal objectives.
Here’s why understanding each aspect is so important:
- Understanding Pains:
- Empathy and Connection: Recognizing the pains of your target audience or clients helps in building empathy. It shows that you understand their challenges and are committed to addressing them.
- Problem-Solving: Identifying specific pains enables you to tailor your solutions more effectively to address real problems, rather than assumed ones.
- Product Development: In product design, knowing the user’s pain points ensures that the product addresses real issues, enhancing its usefulness and appeal.
- Understanding Needs:
- Effective Solutions: Knowing the needs of your audience or market allows you to create solutions that are not just nice to have, but are actually necessary and valuable.
- Prioritization: In business and product development, understanding needs helps in prioritizing features, services, and investments based on what will deliver the greatest benefit.
- Building Trust and Loyalty: When customers see that you’re addressing their core needs, they are more likely to trust your brand and remain loyal.
- Understanding Desired Outcomes:
- Goal-Oriented Strategy: Understanding the desired outcomes helps in aligning your strategies, products, or services with the end goals of your customers or clients.
- Measurement of Success: Knowing what outcomes are desired enables you to measure success more accurately and adapt your strategies based on whether those outcomes are being achieved.
- Customer Satisfaction: Delivering on desired outcomes ensures higher customer satisfaction, as you are effectively fulfilling the aspirations or solving the problems of your audience.
Pains and Needs Help You Build Empathy for the Current State
To truly grasp where you or your audience currently stand, you need to understand the specific pains and needs that are present.
Think of these as your “ground zero.”
Pains are the problems or challenges being faced, and needs are the requirements for potential solutions to alleviate these pains.
By identifying and acknowledging them, you establish a clear picture of the Current State – it’s like putting a pin on the map of your or your audience’s journey.
This is more than just an exercise in empathy.
It’s a strategic way of pinpointing exactly where the gaps and opportunities are.
In a business context, for instance, understanding customer pains and needs isn’t just about knowing what’s wrong or what’s desired.
It’s about deeply connecting with the customer’s experience, their day-to-day reality.
This connection is crucial because it informs how you design solutions, tailor messages, and even how you innovate.
For personal growth, recognizing your own pains and needs is the first step in any transformation journey.
It’s like a doctor diagnosing a patient before treatment.
You can’t effectively move forward if you don’t understand where you currently are and what’s holding you back or pulling you forward.
Pains and needs are not just markers of the current state, they are the lenses through which we can view, understand, and ultimately change that state.
Whether you’re developing a new product, improving a service, or working on personal development, starting with a clear, honest understanding of pains and needs is how you build the foundation for meaningful progress and impactful solutions.
Desired Outcomes Help You Build Empathy for the Desired Future State
The Future State starts with a picture. You need a vivid vision or picture of the future that’s worth creating.
You need a target Future State that is worth solving for.
To figure out the Desired Future State, you start by identifying Desired Outcomes.
In any serious attempt or effort to achieve something, whether it’s personal development or business growth, understanding and visualizing the desired Future State is a powerful tool for creating empathy and drive towards that future.
It’s like setting the GPS for your preferred destination before starting a journey.
The Desired Future state is not just a vision of what could be.
It’s a detailed, empathetic understanding of what should be, based on the genuine needs and aspirations of either yourself or your audience.
Empathy, in this context, is about more than just understanding others’ feelings or situations.
It’s about deeply resonating with their aspirations and challenges.
By visualizing the desired future state, you’re essentially stepping into the shoes of your future self or your target audience.
You’re feeling their aspirations, their relief from current pains, and the satisfaction of their needs.
This empathetic connection to the future state propels you to think more innovatively and act more purposefully to bridge the gap from the current state to the desired one.
For instance, in a business scenario, when you vividly picture the future state where your customers’ needs are met, their problems solved, and their lives improved, you naturally align your strategies, products, and actions towards making that picture a reality.
It becomes more than a business plan; it’s a mission.
Similarly, in personal growth, envisioning your Future State – where you have achieved your goals and overcome your current hurdles – builds a deep emotional connection with that future.
This connection becomes a driving force, guiding your decisions and actions.
Empathizing with the desired future state is about understanding the end goal in such a tangible, vivid way that it informs and inspires every step you take towards it.
It’s not just about where you want to be but about fully understanding and feeling why it’s important to get there and what it will mean when you do. It’s this empathetic foresight that transforms visions into realities.
Example 1: Leader Struggling with a Time Management Challenge
Here is a simple story of Pains, Needs, and Desired Outcomes where the leader in this case is struggling with time management, stress, and work-life balance.
Current State (Pains and Needs)
“Right now, I feel like I’m constantly running against the clock.
My day-to-day life is a juggling act between work, personal commitments, and trying to stay healthy.
The biggest pain for me is this sense of never having enough time, which leads to stress and burnout.
I’m struggling to balance my professional responsibilities with my personal goals, like improving my fitness and spending more quality time with my family.
I need a way to manage my time more effectively, reduce stress, and find a balance that allows me to excel at work while also attending to my personal well-being and relationships.
I’m looking for strategies or tools that can help me streamline my tasks, prioritize effectively, and create a more fulfilling, less hectic life.”
Desired Future State (Desired Outcomes)
“In my ideal future, I see myself in control of my time, with a perfect balance between work and personal life.
I envision waking up each day feeling energized and ready to tackle my tasks efficiently.
The stress and burnout are things of the past.
I’ve mastered the art of time management, allowing me to excel in my career while also dedicating time to exercise, hobbies, and my family.
I’m healthier, both mentally and physically, and my relationships are stronger because I can give them the attention they deserve.
This future is not just about being more productive; it’s about leading a richer, more balanced life where my professional success and personal happiness coexist harmoniously.”
Example 2: Leader of Large Teams Struggling with AI Adoption
Here is a simple story of Pains, Needs, and Desired Outcomes where the leader in this case is struggling with how to adopt AI for their organization.
Current State (Pains and Needs)
“As the leader of large teams in my company, I’m facing significant challenges in understanding and adopting AI.
The world of artificial intelligence seems vast and complex, and I often find myself overwhelmed by the plethora of choices and the flood of conflicting advice.
My main struggle is pinpointing exactly how, why, and where to integrate AI into our business processes.
I worry about falling behind our competitors who are rapidly embracing AI.
I need clarity on the most effective AI tools and strategies that align with our company’s specific goals and challenges.
I’m seeking guidance that cuts through the noise, offering clear, actionable insights on AI adoption tailored to our unique business context.”
Desired Future State (Desired Outcomes)
“In my desired future state, I have a clear and confident understanding of how to leverage AI for our company’s benefit.
We’ve successfully integrated AI solutions that enhance our operational efficiency, boost team productivity, and drive innovation.
I’ve led my teams through a smooth transition, with AI tools that are user-friendly and highly relevant to our specific needs.
We are now at the forefront of our industry, utilizing AI not just to keep up with the competition, but to set new standards.
This shift in our approach to AI has been transformative, propelling us into a new era of business where data-driven decision-making and intelligent automation are key pillars of our success.”
When You Really Feel the Pain, You’re Doing It Right
The Pains, Needs, and Desired Outcomes method is a powerful tool for empathy-driven problem-solving.
It ensures that your solutions are not just good on paper but resonate deeply with those who need them.
You aren’t doing it right until the story of pain brings the pain to life and the solution team can relate to it.
In the pursuit of solving problems that truly matter – the ones people value and are willing to pay for – a deep understanding of pains, needs, and desired outcomes is essential.
It’s a method that hinges on empathy and practical problem-solving, guiding you to address issues that genuinely impact people’s lives.
First, let’s talk about “feeling the pain.”
This isn’t just about recognizing a problem exists–it’s about immersing yourself in it.
Imagine yourself in the shoes of those experiencing this Pain.
How does it affect their daily life?
How does it hinder their goals?
This level of empathy is crucial. It’s not just about observing from a distance; it’s about feeling the frustration, the challenges, the roadblocks.
When you truly feel the Pain, you’re not just understanding the problem – you’re living it.
And this is where you start doing it right.
Understanding the Needs comes next.
These are the solutions, the relief from pain that people are seeking.
Here, you’re bridging the gap between the problem and the solution.
It’s about finding that sweet spot where your skills or offerings align with what’s truly needed to alleviate the pain.
Now, onto the Desired Outcomes – the vision of what success looks like. What does solving this problem achieve?
How does it change lives for the better?
This is where you aim to transform pain into progress, to turn challenges into triumphs.
It’s about painting a picture of a future where the pain is no longer a barrier, and the needs are fully met.
In a business context, this method helps you create solutions that are not only effective but also deeply valued. You’re solving problems that people care about, and in doing so, you open up opportunities for greater impact and revenue.
Personally, this approach is equally transformative.
It pushes you to tackle higher value problems, challenges that stretch your capabilities and grow your expertise.
The Gap Between Current State and Future State is the Space for Innovation
This simple approach is how I taught leaders at Microsoft to set the stage for innovation.
It’s how business developers around the world have helped leaders reimagine how to create and capture value.
It’s how innovators have figured out how to drive disruption and be what’s next.
In any journey of transformation, whether it’s personal, professional, or organizational, the gap between where we are (the Current State) and where we want to be (the Future State) represents fertile ground for innovation.
This gap is not just a void waiting to be filled.
This gap is an opportunity brimming with potential for creative and strategic breakthroughs.
Let’s break this down.
The Current State is our reality – it’s where we stand today, with all our achievements, limitations, challenges, and unexplored possibilities.
It’s our starting point, our baseline.
On the other hand, the Future State is our vision – it’s where we aspire to be. It’s a representation of our goals, aspirations, and the impact we wish to make.
The journey from the Current State to the Future State is rarely a straight line
It’s a path that demands navigation, adaptation, and sometimes, complete reinvention.
This is where innovation comes into play.
The gap between these two states is a canvas for creativity. It’s where we ask the critical questions:
How can we overcome our current challenges?
What new approaches can we explore?
What hasn’t been tried before?
It’s in this gap that we find the motivation to experiment, to take risks, and to think outside the box.
In a business context, this gap analysis is a crucial tool.
It helps identify areas for improvement, new market opportunities, or unmet customer needs.
It is the space where a company can redefine its value proposition, explore new business models, or create disruptive products and services.
On a personal level, this gap is equally significant. It’s a space for personal growth and skill development.
It’s where you realize that the way to bridge the gap might involve learning new things, forming new habits, or even changing your mindset.
It’s where transformation begins.
It’s the playground for those who are willing to think differently, challenge the status quo, and turn potential into reality.
This gap is, indeed, where the magic of innovation happens.
If You Want to Create More Value, Solve Higher Value Problems
The big thing I learned from creating thousands of these at Microsoft around the world is a very simple idea:
The value of your solution is the value of the problem you solve.
If you want to create more value, then solve higher value problems.
Of course, people ask me how do you find the higher value problems to solve?
One way is to focus on the stakeholder set. For example, if I solve a CEO’s problem it might be worth more than if I solve a problem for a leader down the line. (Or the reverse might be true).
The point is to check the value of the problems you could be solving based on the stakeholders you work with.
Your customers will have ideas of how valuable their problems are.
They will also have priorities.
When you can connect the problems you solve back to business priorities and initiatives, you are at least staying relevant.
You can use the tool to solve business problems or customer problems.
The main thing that changes or drives this is simply who you focus on as the customer.
Start by Creating One (“Do One Push Up”)
Start by creating one really good Pains, Needs, and Desired Outcomes card.
I’m famous at Microsoft for an exercise I call “Do One Push Up”, a hack I learned from B.J. Fogg.
B.J. Fogg is famous for building up to a large number of daily pushups, by building a “One Push Up” habit.
In my case, I would have a room of smart Microsoft colleagues from around the world.
When I showed them the idea, of course they understood it easily and fast.
That’s what makes it powerful.
But when I would try to create one with the group, everybody would want to create a “One Card” to rule them all.
They would want to generalize the language so that one solution could apply to anything.
Or they wanted one problem to fan out into all possible solutions.
Or they would simply want to “think” about the exercise, and conclude they could do 30 of them easily.
But I would stop the group and say, let’s just do one.
Then, as we stepped into the exercise, people quickly realized whether or not they actually know the language of their customers and could express their pains, needs, and outcomes in the first person.
Every time I did the exercise, a beautiful thing would happen.
People in the room would realize they have to go back and listen to their clients or their customers in a new and deeper way.
The Pains, Needs, and Desired Outcomes framework would guide them through a much deeper path of empathy.
For so many people this one exercise helped them change their game and become much better business developers, much better innovators, much better leaders, and much better sellers.
Step into the Customer’s Shoes and Build Deep Empathy
The real power of this method lies in its ability to make you step into the customer’s shoes, to feel their pains, understand their needs, and envision their desired outcomes.
This is not just about seeing the world through their eyes but about feeling it through their heartbeats.
It’s about connecting on a human level that transcends transactional relationships.
Through this empathetic approach, you uncover the real value of problems and then you can focus on solving higher-value issues.
The framework teaches you that the worth of your solutions is intrinsically linked to the significance of the problems you tackle.
This realization is crucial for anyone aspiring to drive meaningful change and create significant impact.
The process of creating a single Pains, Needs, and Desired Outcomes card is an exercise in humility and learning.
It challenges you to really listen and understand your customers, pushing you to go beyond assumptions and surface-level understanding.
It’s a journey of discovering the true essence of the problems you’re solving, which in turn, shapes you into a more effective leader, innovator, and problem-solver.
Mastering the Pains, Needs, and Desired Outcomes framework is not just about business growth or personal development.
It’s about cultivating a mindset that values empathy, seeks to understand deeply, and strives to make a genuine difference in people’s lives.
This framework isn’t just a tool–it’s a compass that guides you towards more impactful, empathetic, and successful efforts in every arena of life.
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