Mental Model

The world is full of old-age problems and continually produces new ones that present opportunities for someone to solve them in new ways. As you travel down your path, deciding which problems you target will influence your achievements, financial rewards, and fulfilling your life purpose. Deciding what not to allocate your precious time and energy to open up space to focus on problems where you have something unique to offer. Big markets are not always better. Target the smallest viable market to change the lives of those people who can’t wait for your attention. Being everything to everyone is not a winning strategy.


Once you have identified a career path that leverages your individuality, you can go deeper into solving specific problems where you can create unique value. The goal here is to focus your time and effort on problems worth solving and where your solution is unique from others. Or does not exist at all.

I advocate that everyone adopt a “creator” mindset that enables them to offer something unique and expand the monetization of their expertise. This will boost your mojo and be something that you control completely.

An Example in Practice

Some of the best targets that have created amazing businesses and value are solving a problem that we personally struggle with. If we feel the passion to solve or reduce the friction of a significant problem in life, chances are there are many others that could benefit. 

The Career Strategy Framework was born to solve the problem of how to go about crafting and managing a unique career path that aligned with our broader life. My motivation was to solve this for myself as I could not find a methodology that met my needs. Then I took this framework and shared it with my colleagues at Microsoft who also struggled with the same problem. I quickly found myself running workshops all over the company. This changed my life forever and will be a focus for the rest of my life.


1 – Be Different, Not Better.

Be original.

Avoid crowds that have already solved the problem and have beaten down the path to money and success.

Compete to be unique instead of competing to be the best.

Identify a category, a unique offering, personal culture, and point of view.

2 – Look for Problems You Can Solve.

Research trends that are creating problems and where you can seize the opportunity.

Take note of unmet needs in everyday life.

Help others solve a problem you struggled with but overcame.

Start a small side hustle business using the skills you already have to serve others.

3 – Target the Smallest Viable Market.

Be specific about the change you are trying to make.

Make a unique promise connected to the change you seek to make.

Focus on the minimum number of people you need to influence to make it worth your effort.

Organize your project and life around the minimum – the smallest market you can survive on.

Find a corner of the market that can’t wait for your attention.

Find people who will understand you and will fall in love with where you hope to take them.

The smallest viable market will free you from the burden of being everything to everybody.

4 – Estimate the Willingness to Pay

Willingness to pay is the highest price a customer will agree to.

Define who is the ideal qualified buyer persona – needs, pain points, demographics, etc.

Segment customers into subsegments based on affinity and willingness to pay

Continually experiment with subscription pricing to balance revenue, retention, and growth.

Experiment With This

  • If you seek wealth, it’s important to understand the value of solving a particular problem. The “price” is set by demand (how many organizations or people are seeking to solve the problem) and supply (the people who have the skills to develop and operationalize the product or service). Am I currently on a career path or educational program that produces many people with the same skill sets and experience? What does the compensation profile look like in this field?
  • Organizations and people pay for unique knowledge and skills that solve a problem. By definition, it’s valuable since the skills are rare. How could I weave together my skills and personality traits to solve a problem that is valued by the market? Consider a side hustle business where you can offer a solution to a problem where you already have skills. What is stopping me from pursuing solving this problem?


Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets by Al Ramadan, Dave Peterson, Christopher Lochhead, Kevin Maney – Chris Guillebeau

The Money Tree: A Story About Finding the Fortune in Your Own Backyard by Chris Guillebeau

Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days by Chris Guillebeau

This Is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See by Seth Godin

1,000 True Fans by Kevin Kelly

1,000 True Fans? Try 100 by Li Jin (Andreesen Horowitz)

How to Calculate Willingness to Pay and Use It to Inform Subscription Pricing by Patrick Campbell

Seth Godin on How to Say “No,” Market Like a Professional, and Win at Life (#343) – Tim Ferriss