Muddy-Fuzzy-Clear: Life stages of a business problem

  • BLOG
  • December 11th, 2012

Business problems evolve. When a business encounters a problem for the first time, very little about the problem is understood. Details about the nature of the problem, scope, approach, solution etc. are all muddy. With time, as we start addressing the problem using heuristics/experience it starts getting a little clearer. We gain a better understanding of the finer details of the problem, but the “right” solution is still fuzzy. Eventually, after multiple iterations of solving the same business problem, the right approach/solution becomes clearer. Every business problem evolves through the muddy-fuzzy-clear life stages. For example, how to monetize Facebook data was a muddy problem a couple of years ago. Today it is a fuzzy problem.

However, once a problem becomes clear, it doesn’t stay that way. The muddy-fuzzy-clear phases are cyclical in nature. A disruptive innovation in technology or a new piece of information (data) can make a clear problem muddy again. The rate at which this evolution is happening has accelerated in the last decade. As a result, problems are spending less time in the “clear” state and a lot more time in the “muddy” and “fuzzy” states. Clear problems can have clear solutions. But muddy and fuzzy problems can’t be solved using black box approaches. It requires a different mindset to see a problem through its various life stages. We will talk about this in a different post some other day.