When you choose to operate a business, you have to deal with the problems that will inevitably occur. As a business owner and a business leader, it is your job to try to mitigate the problems that arise and deal with them effectively so as to minimize their impact.
However, it can be difficult to solve the problems we are faced with on a day-to-day basis. The potential for conflict aside, it is common for multiple problems to occur at the same time, leaving business leaders scrambling to manage all of them. This can result in finding Band-Aid solutions and never really addressing the underlying issues.
Clearly, this is a problem in and of itself, but there are strategies that will allow you to adequately address the problems commonly faced in a business setting.
Is that the real problem?
Often, it’s too easy to see something bad happening and label it a problem.
It might be a problem that sales have been dropping. But, lower sales aren’t really the problem—they are a symptom of something deeper. The real issue, more likely, is that you haven’t changed your business model to include mobile and your competitors have, which has resulted in many of your customers switching to your competitors because of the higher level of convenience they offer.
In other words, we have a tendency to view the symptoms of the underlying problem as problems in their own right. As Business Insider points out, it is often easy for executives to jump to conclusions and implement a solution that ends up being nothing more than a temporary fix.
When it comes to identifying the true problem that is affecting your business, it is absolutely critical to take the time and effort to look at the situation carefully, and fully understand the it. This can be difficult when a problem seems disastrous or unimportant compared to other points of focus in the business.
However, when leaders are too hasty, there is a tendency to apply ineffective or inappropriate actions that might only make the problem worse or—at the very least—prolong it. To properly handle a problem, you need to consider the broader picture.
Solution or opportunity?
Finding the root cause of an underlying problem is a must. But, when it comes to taking care of that problem, it is important to think in terms of finding an opportunity, rather than thinking of it in terms of finding a solution.
The key is to look at a problem from all angles and to consider any opportunities that might be lurking beneath the surface. Of course, this is sometimes easier said than done.
Businesses are always solving problems, whether rectifying operational problems or providing solutions for their customers. The traditional approach is to attack the problem with data and market research. However, innovation seems to be the key to problem-solving.
Entrepreneur reports on a new and innovative approach to problem-solving that more creative companies are implementing. Called design thinking, this out-of-the-box method of solving problems is centered on the concepts of experimentation and interaction within the real world. The first step to implementing this method is to look for the opportunity in the problem.
In order to identify opportunity, observation is required. If it is a problem within the workplace, then observe the people or department involved. If it is a problem that relates to customers and clients, then observe them in a relevant, real-world setting. Then, make a list of needs that you have uncovered during observation and come up with as many ways as possible to meet those needs. This is where you can get really creative. From here, take the very best ideas—the ones that will have the most positive impact—and determine which one works the best.
Startup ideas as problem-solving
This concept of solving problems isn’t just applicable to tackling problems that come up while running a business; it also applies to the concept of startups and taking an existing business in a new direction or diversifying its portfolio of offerings. The concept behind design thinking has been echoed by the very best in the world of entrepreneurship.
Paul Graham is a computer scientist and an entrepreneurial guru; Rod Ebrahimi reports for Fast Company that one of the things he learned from Graham about running a business is the need to solve real problems, which echoes the design thinking approach. It’s not about finding the most complex problems to solve, but about finding common needs within the organization and in the real world and coming up with solutions that fit those needs. In other words, when you solve a problem, be certain the solution isn’t something fancy and intricate, but something that offers true value.
Graham has also written directly about the role problem-solving plays when it comes to getting a startup off the ground. As Graham notes in an article, there are three things every startup has in common, “…they’re something the founders themselves want, that they themselves can build and that few others realize are worth doing.” The key, Graham says, is to work toward solving a problem—preferably a problem you have, because you know this is a problem that actually exists and not one that you think other people have.
Must-haves for problem-solving
While the key is to find workable and innovative solutions to problems that come up in business, there are potential barriers to finding and implementing these solutions.
According to Forbes, these barriers are related to a lack of adequate communication, the presence of silos, and the absence of strategy. Clearing away these barriers requires:
Transparency in communications, which must occur at all levels of the organization
The freedom to express concerns, opinions, and ideas will allow people in an organization to speak up, which will move the problem-solving initiative along at a much faster and more efficient pace.
The removal of departmental and hierarchical silos within an organization
In order to have transparency in communication, there cannot be silos within an organization. There must be cross-functional collaboration in a team setting.
Open-mindedness in all aspects of business and communication
For the above two points to be possible, all people in the organization must be open-minded, able to embrace different ideas, and change. Open-minded people are more likely to accept risk as a part of problem-solving and innovation, which will help propel an organization forward.
A solid strategy is needed, rather than a deep analysis that doesn’t lead to concrete action
Implementing change without having a solid strategy behind that implementation will result in switching one problem for another. Collaboration and putting all the pieces in place must happen for any change to be effective and to last over the long term.
Quoting Stephen Covey, who said that “strength lies in differences, not in similarities,” Forbes also discusses the importance of diversity when it comes to problem-solving in business. The more diverse a team is, the better able they are to come up with innovative solutions to the problems faced by the organization. In fact, it has been found that groups that show greater diversity were better at solving problems than groups made up specifically of highly skilled problem solvers.
Finally, attitude is a critical factor when it comes to problem-solving. The word problem in and of itself brings with it negative connotations. Brian Tracy suggests that the most effective problem-solving can only be accomplished by approaching it with a positive attitude. Rather than ridding the organization of something negative (a problem), it is better to view it in terms of remedying a situation, which is a more neutral word.
In fact, the design thinking method we discussed above, which requires finding the opportunity that lies at the root of a problem, is a very positive approach. Finding the opportunity takes something that seems inherently negative on the surface and turns it into something positive; a way to make improvements that will benefit the business and help it succeed.
In the end, adapt
The most important thing when it comes to problem-solving in business is the ability to adapt. The need for adaptation arises whenever problems surface because, in order to solve the problem, change is required.
Businesses that are not able to embrace change will ultimately be left behind, an all-too-immediate threat in today’s world, in which technology is advancing rapidly.
Any business that can identify the real underlying problem to a set of problematic symptoms and delve deep to uncover the most innovative ways to meet the needs of the business and the customer will be able to take their problem-solving to a new level. It is this ability to innovatively problem-solve that will propel any business forward in the 21st century.