"The Problem-Solver's Playbook: Choosing Your North Star Metric and Sharpening Your Thinking"

Aviral Vaid

Aviral Vaid

Jul 19, 20235 min read


"The Problem-Solver's Playbook: Choosing Your North Star Metric and Sharpening Your Thinking"


In today's fast-paced and competitive business landscape, problem-solving and strategic thinking are crucial skills for success. However, simply focusing on solving problems may not be enough. By shifting our mindset to multiplying value and understanding the bigger picture, we can become more effective problem solvers. This article explores the intersection of two key areas: selecting a North Star Metric and asking critical questions to enhance our thinking and decision-making processes.

Selecting a North Star Metric:

A North Star Metric (NSM) is a single, key performance indicator that aligns the entire organization towards a common goal. There are six categories of NSMs: revenue, customer growth, consumption growth, engagement growth, growth efficiency, and user experience. The choice of NSM depends on various factors, such as the type of company, business model, and product usage. Let's delve deeper into each category and its relevance:

  • 1. Revenue: This metric focuses on the amount of money generated and is the primary focus for approximately 50% of companies. However, early emphasis on revenue growth can lead to suboptimal decisions and uninspiring goals.
  • 2. Customer Growth: Measuring the number of paying users or market share, this metric is the focus for around 35% of companies. It aligns with the goal of expanding the customer base and increasing market penetration.
  • 3. Consumption Growth: Intensity of product usage beyond site visits is the key focus for nearly 30% of companies. This metric is especially relevant for marketplaces, platforms, and UGC subscription-based products.
  • 4. Engagement Growth: The number of active users in the product is the primary focus for approximately 30% of companies. This metric is crucial for ad-driven businesses and platforms like social media networks.
  • 5. Growth Efficiency: Measuring the efficiency of spending versus revenue generation, this metric is the focus for about 10% of companies. It helps evaluate the effectiveness of resource allocation and cost optimization.
  • 6. User Experience: Assessing how enjoyable and easy-to-use customers find the product overall, this metric is the focus for approximately 10% of companies. It aligns with the goal of providing exceptional user experiences and customer satisfaction.

By understanding the nature of your business, product, and growth trajectory, you can refine your ideal NSM and align your organization towards a common goal.

Enhancing Thinking and Decision-Making:

In addition to selecting a suitable NSM, asking critical questions can enhance our thinking and decision-making processes. Let's explore these questions and their implications:

1. Is this problem merely a symptom of a bigger problem? It's essential to dig deeper and identify the root cause of the problem rather than focusing solely on solving visible symptoms. This approach ensures long-term solutions and prevents recurring issues.

  • 2. How impactful is this problem for the customers? Assessing the impact of a problem involves considering three dimensions: reach, intensity, and user segment. Understanding the customers' pain points and the scale of the problem helps prioritize effectively.

3. Does it align with the company/product's long-term vision and strategy? Strategy involves making choices about what not to do. Evaluating the alignment of a problem with the long-term vision helps prioritize resources and efforts.

4. What do you need to deprioritize to work on this? Considering the cost of delay and the urgency of solving a problem helps allocate resources efficiently. Some problems require immediate attention, while others can be addressed over time.

5. What happens if you do nothing? Understanding the consequences of inaction helps evaluate the urgency and importance of solving a problem. It also highlights the potential risks and opportunities associated with different scenarios.

6. What is the customer's job-to-be-done? Adopting the Jobs-to-be-Done framework expands our perspective beyond product usability. By understanding the customers' underlying goals and motivations, we can identify innovative solutions and differentiate ourselves in the market.

7. How can I build a deeper moat for my product? Creating network effects and building barriers to entry can strengthen our product's competitive advantage. By increasing the value for each user as the user base grows, we create a virtuous cycle of growth.

8. If a new hotshot founder disrupts my industry, what will they say about my company/product? Embracing disruption and proactively challenging our own product helps us stay ahead of the game. By continuously evolving and innovating, we can maintain relevance and avoid obsolescence.

9. How much is our appetite to solve this problem? Evaluating the organization's willingness and commitment to solving a problem is crucial. It helps align resources, set realistic expectations, and drive effective problem-solving processes.

10. What is feasible to build? A good solution is desirable for users, viable for the business, and feasible to build within the available resources and constraints. Evaluating the feasibility of a solution ensures realistic planning and execution.

Three Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Embrace a Growth Mindset: By shifting our focus from problem-solving to value multiplication, we can enhance our problem-solving skills and drive innovation. Continuously seek opportunities to improve and challenge the status quo.
  • 2. Foster a Culture of Curiosity: Encourage asking questions, challenging assumptions, and exploring different perspectives. Embrace diverse opinions and create an environment where critical thinking thrives.
  • 3. Iterate and Learn: Embrace a learning mindset and iterate on solutions based on feedback and insights. Emphasize data-driven decision-making and continuously refine approaches based on real-world outcomes.


Selecting a North Star Metric and sharpening our thinking are essential components of effective problem-solving and strategic decision-making. By understanding the different categories of NSMs and asking critical questions, we can align our efforts, drive growth, and deliver value to customers. Embracing a growth mindset, fostering curiosity, and embracing iterative learning are key actions to enhance problem-solving capabilities and drive success in today's dynamic business landscape.


  1. "The problem-solver’s playbook: 17 questions to sharpen your thinking", https://medium.com/irlproduct/the-problem-solvers-playbook-17-questions-to-sharpen-your-thinking-167e2ce134c2 (Glasp)
  2. "Choosing Your North Star Metric", https://future.com/north-star-metrics/ (Glasp)

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