I have a confession.  I lied.  

I don’t know a way to use AI to create a happy marriage.  

But, you ask — why not?  Why couldn’t you use technology to transform a marriage?    

Marital Problems?  There’s an App for That

I mean, imagine an app that used machine learning to analyze the tone of the conversation to alert the husband when what’s said is not all that’s meant to be understood.  

It could scan each spouse’s google and amazon search histories so that each knows exactly what to get the other for the next birthday or anniversary.   

It could read each spouse’s daily emails and texts so that the other could get a heads up on what kind of day their spouse has had.  And, in what kind of mood they should expect to find them when they get home. Hey Siri — should I stop for flowers on the way home?  

But, if I suggested to anyone who was in an unhappy marriage that an app could salvage their relationship, I’m pretty sure they would look at me like I was crazy.  

Why?  

You Don’t Have Digital Problems

Because it’s self-evident that relationship problems are not technology problems.  They’re people problems that exist in the real, analog world. If a couple is misaligned on values and goals or does not know how to communicate effectively, no technology is going to solve their problem.  

Businesses are no different.  Businesses don’t have technology problems — they have analog problems, experienced in real life.  Technology may or may not be part of the solution. But, the ultimate result needs to solve the analog problem.      

Even Technology Disruptors Solve Analog Problems

Even the prototypical technology “disruptors” sought to solve analog problems.

Uber didn’t say, let’s use GPS to disrupt the car service industry.  They first identified an analog problem. Customers didn’t want to wait an hour for a car service to arrive.  Drivers didn’t want to pay half of their salaries to the car company.  

Netflix didn’t start by saying – let’s mail order and streaming video to disrupt the video rental industry.  They, too, solved an analog problem. Customers didn’t want to drive to a store. They didn’t like it when another customer had already rented the movie they wanted to see.  And, they didn’t want to pay hefty late fees for keeping the movie more than 48 hours. 

What Analog Problem Are You Trying to Solve

As a business leader, you need to understand the analog problem you are trying to solve before you start embarking on a proposed technology solution.

But, that can be easier said than done.

Business leaders will often not have direct experience with their company’s biggest analog challenges.

The CEO’s Dilemma

The CEO may not experience the annoyance of needing to input the same data more than once.  Or, how it feels to take time between sales calls to enter data into Salesforce. Or, the hassle of splitting up large documents into multiple emails to pass the gauntlet of max attachment size limitations.

Even senior managers and middle managers may not experience the biggest analog pain points.  Therefore, the business leader cannot assume that the problem will naturally bubble to the surface.  

How can a business leader learn about the most critical analog problems that need to be solved?

The Greatest Analog Problem Discovery Tool: Conversation!

My experience is that the only tried and true way to unearth the customer’s pain points is to speak to them directly.  And, then start digging until you get to distinct analog problems.

Think of yourself as a medical doctor.  If a patient says they are experiencing pain in their hand, it would be absurd for the doctor to prescribe treatment before understanding the pain.  Otherwise, the splinter and broken finger would receive the same prescription! Where does it hurt? When did it start hurting? How does the pain feel?   This is the detail you need before you can understand the appropriate solution.

You Don’t Know the Analog Problem Until You Can Sink Your Teeth Into It

Start by asking, what their greatest source of frustration is in their day-to-day interactions with your firm. 

An answer of “you guys are inefficient” is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t give me direction on how to solve the problem.   

The business leader should probe further — can you give me a few examples of how that inefficiency shows up in your day-to-day activities?  Which activities make you want to bang your head against a wall? Which activities feel unnecessary or redundant?

You will be surprised to find that the answers you receive are probably different from the problem you thought you were trying to solve.

Commercial Real Estate Finance: Case Study

In the commercial real estate finance industry, I hear borrowers and brokers complain that they have to fill out forms with data that they’ve already submitted to the lender.  Why can’t the lender just fill out the forms for me?

Great!  That’s an analog problem I can sink my teeth into and has a straight-forward solution.  The lender can start filling out the client’s forms with as much information as they have.     

I have heard others complain that they don’t understand where the lender is in the underwriting process and what milestones they should be tracking.

Great!  Another analog problem with a clear solution.  We can provide clients with a transaction timeline right up-front, so they have total clarity on the process and key milestones.   

Do You Need Technology to Solve Your Analog Problem?  Maybe …

It’s important to note that the solution to the analog problem may incorporate technology … but, it may not require it.  You may find that a lot of analog problems can be solved with simple analog solutions. In the examples above, we can start filling out the client’s forms manually and see if that truly eliminates the analog problem.  

If it does, then I can explore how to leverage technology to automate that process.  Now, rather than launching a tech initiative with the nebulous, budget-busting goal of “we want to automate our underwriting,” we can provide the distinct task that we want to automate.     

To be clear, I’m not saying that a company should not set their sites on a total transformation of the client experience.  But, that transformation will only be beneficial if it is solving analog problems.