It’s Time To Improve Problem Solving
Randy Wolken, President & CEO

Problem-solving is at the heart of good leadership, team performance, and profitability. Problem solvers – and their products and services – do very well in times of crisis and beyond. Given the fast pace of change today, we can all stand to improve our problem-solving capabilities. So, what are some great ways to get better at solving problems – and being more profitable while doing it?

Be forever curious. This is an essential and often overlooked characteristic of rapid and effective problem-solving. It’s time to think like a four-year-old. If you’ve ever been around a four-year-old, you know what I am talking about. They ask “why” over and over again. They are sponges when it comes to learning and understanding new things. With their new ability to talk, sometimes continuously for hours, they want you to explain every new thing and its nuances. Question-asking and exploration are critical to obtaining a deep understanding of our problems and their opportunities. When we are problem-solving through the lens of curiosity and exploration, we solve problems faster and better. When we are curious about solving a customer’s problem, it usually leads to more business and increased profits. So be more curious and never stop!

Embracing ambiguity is the second super-skill for good problem solvers. In new situations, certainty is seldom possible. Instead, think in terms of probability. What is the likelihood that our solution solves the customer’s problem? What is the probability of our approach producing the best outcomes? Do not let perfection get in the way of designing and trying a solution. We do not need to know all the data to proceed. Risk-taking is essential in problem-solving. Embracing ambiguity changes everyone’s ability to be more creative and move forward more quickly. Speed to delivery is critical for effective solutions. Accept what you do not know and decide what you need to know. When you know enough, you can propose an answer. Don’t wait until you know everything possible (because you never will).

Routinely running experiments is the third way to efficiently and effectively solve more problems, even complex ones. You will not know if it works until you try it. Try small pilots for products and services. Small or partial failures need to be encouraged in many instances. See experiments and small pilots as rehearsals. Much like practice games prepare the NBA team to win the championship. Try things. See if they work. When we do this, we can make adjustments and make what we thought would work genuinely work well. If you don’t try, you’ll never know. Also, some product launches have been unable to solve the problem they were intended to solve but solved a different problem. We often learn more from our failures and partial failures than our successes.

We all need to improve our problem-solving approaches. Three ways to do so involve being forever curious, embracing ambiguity, and routinely running experiments. When we use these strategies and get good at them, we solve more formidable challenges. All leaders, and good organizations, are great problem solvers. Improve problem-solving, and you will be happier – and likely more profitable.