Guinea Worms & Problem Solving

problem-solving-water-filterEver Been to South Sudan?

Have you ever seen patients sick, lying on beds, with short sticks hanging on their legs?

If you've been in countries in Africa this sight may not be something you've had to imagine. And the string coming out of the legs of these patients isn't really string. It's the guinea worm.

The guinea worm is almost completely extinct these days. But back in the early 80's, over 3 million folks suffered from these worm infections. And the only solution provided by local doctors was to use a stick.

Here's how it worked. The worm eggs were ingested while drinking water. They would grow inside your body until they were ready to hatch all their children (never causing you pain). Then they'd make their way to the surface of your skin (often your leg) and puncture it to come out.

If you pulled at it, it would break, create an infection and you might die. But if you wrapped the guinea worm around a stick, you could slowly turn the stick daily, and after several weeks, you'd have the whole worm out of your body. Unceasing pain for several weeks, but it would be out.

Guinea worms? Really?

Two reasons for telling you this story.

First is that there are a lot of folks that will build solutions to treat symptoms. That's what the stick approach was. It was treating the symptom. And it had been that way forever. If you're developing a new product, you need to ask yourself if you're treating the cause or the symptom. Lastly change and impact come from treating the cause, not the symptom.

Can you imagine the industry of folks going and finding sticks, cutting them to size, and making them available to everyone? And the only solution to the pain was to sprinkle some water on the wound. Can you imagine the distribution network for getting water everywhere? A lot of work. All for the symptoms.

Problem Solving the Right Way

Like I said earlier, it's almost extinct these days. But that wasn't always the case. The Carter Center, back in 1986, decided to work to eradicate the guinea worm. But it had nothing to do with water, sticks, or even looking for pills that might solve the issue. Instead, they focused their problem solving efforts on the root cause – the water that was infected.

They handed out water filters.

The process was slow and traction took time, but today the expectation is that within a couple of years, the guinea worm will be completely extinct.

The second reason I share this story is because the products we build, even if they're simple, that solve core fundamental problems, will always find success. It may take a bit of time. But they'll prove effective, and everyone likes effective products – much more than symptomatic solutions.

So as you work on your version one product today, let me just ask you this simple question:

Are you solving fundamental or symptomatic problems?