Is it a vitamin or a painkiller?*
Our businesses, projects, jobs, products, and services – are they vitamins or painkillers?
Painkillers address a specific problem. Have a headache? Take Tylenol. When we can define a pain point, a painkiller is whatever offers immediate relief.
Vitamins address an emotional need. Want to make sure you get all of your daily nutrients? Take a multivitamin every morning. We feel better knowing we “checked a box” without having to feel bad (or in pain) first. A vitamin is whatever makes us feel emotionally better by taking some preventative action.
Professionally, we need to rely on both painkillers and vitamins to create successful businesses. If we only solve for pain, eventually someone can come along with a better (or cheaper) treatment. If we only solve for how people feel, eventually someone can come along with a more demonstrably effective treatment.
We have to keep both painkillers and vitamins on our professional shelf. By making sure we have what our customers need when they have a problem AND what they want to generally feel positive, we can create durable, sustainable businesses.
Our value is at its most visible when we can solve whatever problems arise and keep people positively functioning the rest of the time.
*this is a variation on Nir Eyal’s vitamin/painkiller mental model in “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.”