25 Secrets For Solving BIG Problems In Your Business
Some problems you face in business are small ones that can easily be solved. You’ve seen them before and you have ready-made solutions that require little or no thought.
For example, suppose you have a temporary cash flow problem. From past experience you realize that there are two obvious solutions:
- Sell more.
- Improve the way you handle receivables.
But suppose you encounter a large and unwieldy problem that you have never struggled with before.
Suppose none of the obvious solutions seem to fit?
What should you do? What’s the secret?
The simple answer — the secret to solving your BIG business problems — is simply this: Use your intellect.
When you are faced with a problem that’s too big to handle, you must marshal all your intellectual resources — the resources that got you this far already — and craft a new problem-solving regimen.
Sounds simple, right? Well it isn’t.
Using your intellect to solve problems does not mean just thinking about them. It’s an intellectual process. It’s using your mind creatively, to place you in an intellectual environment where the BIG problems can be solved.
Win Wenger, PhD, of the Renaissance Project, has developed an intellectual problem-solving process that I find useful. Here it is, with my embellishments.
(Note: Wenger’s comments are in bold below — my embellishments are in normal type.)
25 Secrets: Solving BIG Problems In Your Business
In order to solve BIG problems you must:
- Want to solve the problem. Sounds obvious? Well it isn’t. Before you tackle a major problem, you must first be sure that you really want to. Many entrepreneurs continue the fight for their business when the truth is: It’s no longer viable. Deep in their hearts they know, or suspect, but habit forces them forward. Sometimes it is better to admit that the business, or the market, or the product was a mistake — and start over. Thomas Edison failed over 900 times before he commercialized the light bulb. If you persevere, while at the same time adjusting your approach, you will succeed eventually.
- Have wide-ranging interests, and feed them. Many businesses fail in the long term due to a lack of innovation. To innovate in the 21st century you must have a wide-ranging intellect. Far too many entrepreneurs become so obsessed with their businesses that they ignore everything else. That is a serious mistake. Develop your mind in other ways: Art, music, history, literature and mathematics, to name a few, can be well-springs of creative energy and problem-solving power. Use them. And as you develop other interests, feed them by taking the time to involve yourself.
- Entertain ideas and inspirations from outside the box. I don’t mean merely thinking outside the box. I mean removing yourself from the box entirely. Leave your comfort zone. Get out into the real world, not your business niche. Listen to others less accomplished than yourself, it’s remarkable what you can learn. Inspiration, the fuel that will keep your enterprise going, often springs from the most unexpected of sources.
- Learn from any and every source. Wenger puts it this way: “Anyone can learn from someone wise….it takes someone pretty wise to be able to learn even from fools.“ Personally, my faith tells me that there are no coincidences. People from all walks of life and all levels of intellect, cross my path every day. And yes, some of them will turn out to be fools. But I believe that every single one of them is there for a reason. There is a quote from Corrie Ten Boom, the Christian Holocaust survivor who helped many Jews escape the Nazis during World War II, that makes this point well: “Every experience God gives us, every person he puts in our lives, is the perfect preparation for the future than only He can see.” Whether spiritual guidance or pure pragmatism is directing your problem-solving, be sure you pay attention and learn from any and every source.
- Keep coming back to the problem from different directions. Some entrepreneurs are myopic. Their nearsightedness causes them to look at their problems from one point-of-view. To be adroit at solving problems, you must view them diligently from every angle. Give it your best, then stop. Now approach the problem again from a completely different place and give it your best again. Keep this up until you arrive at the solution.
- Let go of it between times, and deal with other matters. Not taking a break from the problem-solving process can be debilitating. It can sound the death-knell for your business. Build some variety into your business life. And if you can’t find another business requirement to occupy yourself, heed Wenger’s advice:
- Tend the garden
- Wash the dishes
- Experience or ‘do’ in the arts
- Take inordinate pleasure in little things—sometimes that’s all you’ll have, sometimes those become big worthy things.
- Keep or build your stamina and follow-through. This is a tough one for many entrepreneurs. How many times have you heard yourself saying, “I know I should take better care of myself, but I don’t have the time?” Certainly it requires discipline to build up your stamina, but without doing so it is likely that you will be too tired to follow-through effectively. This is a crucial business requirement, not a luxury.
- Keep your health. Similar to number 7 above, this secret to solving BIG problems is difficult for many entrepreneurs. Difficult or not, it is also a crucial business requirement, not a luxury. Remember, that when you eventually solve the problem that is nagging you, you’re going to want a bit of celebration. And if health problems make that impossible, you have stolen one of the priceless benefits of being an entrepreneur. Stay well and prosper.
- “Keep your day job.” This secret can be twofold. If your business cannot support you financially, that is a much bigger problem than the current problem you are trying to solve. If you need to keep it, keep it. On the other hand, if your business can support you, never lose sight of the day job that got you there. Think of it as an intellectual fall-back position. If you know that there is another secure job waiting for you if the business fails, not only will that provide encouragement when things get tough, but it will make failure less likely. Problem-solving is always easier if you know it is not a matter of life or death.
- Keep your sense of humor. This is sage advice. It’s hard to lose your positive attitude if you belly-laugh once in a while. You can always find something to chuckle about, even when enduring BIG problems. Smile. Laugh. Share your sense of humor with someone else. You will feel better — and you will do better.
- Be fully creative, then fully critical, then fully creative. You can’t be both creative and critical at the same time. But they are both important. Give the full force of your intellect to both creativity and sensible criticism, but alternate them. You will find that you can do both with effectiveness and efficiency. Try it. You’ll find it works amazingly well.
- Raise and keep up your level of ongoing tinkering. Tinkering is a very useful intellectual exercise. It is restful by contrast to full-fledged intellectual activity. Tinker with your problem by tossing it mentally up in the air. It won’t seem as heavy. It might even float back to your mind resolved. Tinker with your ideas as well. Take them apart and put them back together again. See how they fit together. You’ll be surprised at the positive result.
- Be opportunistic. This is huge. Solutions can flit in and out of your mind like butterflies, hardly making a sound. Watch for them, listen for them, and grab them. Solutions are often targets of opportunity and need to be treated as unexpected gifts you need to take immediate advantage of. You don’t need a water-proof voice recorder for use in the shower, but you do need to develop the mental discipline necessary to be constantly vigilant.
- Fiddle in other creative activities, keeping those further resources of yours in the picture. Engaging in other creative activities, and bringing all of your other talents into the effort, can yield a very positive result. Steve Jobs once attended a calligraphy class at Reed College, and became very involved in the artistry of the various fonts. Later in his business career he fiddled with fonts quite often. The result was the innovative fonts used in the MAC computer. Now all computers utilize sans serif fonts and proportional spacing
- Work in creative bursts; don’t 9-to-5 it. This is an exceptional idea, that sadly, I have not been able to execute myself. I will do better. I will convince myself with this argument: If you are only 75% effective, let’s say, after working 9 to 5 without a break – but you are 95% effective after working 9 to 5 with three twenty minute breaks to stimulate creativity, you gain almost an hour more of effectiveness when you work in creative bursts than when you make yourself an indentured servant to your computer.
- Fly on inspiration as fast as possible before the pattern dissipates. Inspiration can be gossamer thin, like the wings of a butterfly. It comes rarely and disappears quickly. So when it does make an appearance, embrace it, and fly on it.
- Fly fast on inspiration as long as possible, then climb right back on and go up again. Despite the fact that inspiration is fleeting, it will return if you welcome it. When it does, take advantage of your luck. Climb aboard. And fly as long as possible. Never give up the reins unless you must. If you fall off, or if inspiration disappears, get up and get back on. Inspiration is far too precious to waste.
- Be willing to dog-plod some of the task, on some sort of scheduled regular basis of production, but do as much as possible inspired. We have all done our share of dog-plodding, regular or otherwise. And we will undoubtedly do more. But it is infinitely better, more palatable, if we are doing it inspired. If you are short on inspiration at the moment, at least turn on Pandora and listen to music while you work.
- Don’t wait for inspiration, find it. Waiting for inspiration is a fool’s errand. It’s like waiting for a winning lottery ticket: It’s theoretically possible, but highly unlikely. We were given our intellects for a reason beyond simple self-preservation. It seems unlikely that we were given intelligence just so that we could recognize an unresolvable problem to worry about. It seems more plausible that we were made sentient beings so that we would have a power within us to search out and capture inspiration. We should appeal to the “better angels of our nature,” as President Lincoln said it his First Inaugural Address in 1861. Whatever we call it: Inner Self, Karma or Divine Guidance from God — few would dispute the fact that in the small hours of the night, inspiration often comes. Stay alert and pay attention.
- Build high self-esteem. If we have little respect for ourselves, it is axiomatic that others will have little respect for us. We have all been endowed with intrinsic worth, so we should build upon it.
- Reinforce your confidence by being self-critical from time to time. Only a fool listens to his own judgement exclusively. We all make mistakes and fall short of our highest capabilities. There can be no shame in that. Being self-critical is not a short-coming, it is a basic human advantage.
- Search hard for everything that might be wrong with your idea-theory-discovery-invention, then: “Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!” If we don’t root around in the closets of our mind, seeking to find our own inadequacies, then someone less sympathetic surely will. It is infinitely better to find our own flaws and correct them than to wait for others to fill in our intellectual vacuum. We should be scrupulously honest with ourselves, find what’s wrong and fix it — and with this accomplished, start anew.
- Do your homework, keep on getting better informed in the context. There is no substitute for hard intellectual effort. Learn, learn, learn — and when you’re through, learn some more. We live in a business world, that to use Bill Gates’ words, changes at “the speed of thought.” We cannot solve today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions. Don’t waste your time trying. And remember that in the Internet Information Age, there is a solution out there somewhere, to even the most intractable problem.
- Pat yourself on the back on some of those many occasions when no one is going to do that for you. Just as surely as you must be your own worst critic, you should also be your own most ardent evangelist. The simple fact that you are reading this article, indicates that you care about what you are doing — and that by itself is a laudable trait. Congratulate yourself. Pat yourself on the back. Look back over your business and personal life and contemplate your past successes. Sadly, unless you are a philanthropist showering charitable causes with your largess, or you find yourself on the cover of Fortune Magazine, there will never be a line forming to praise you. Do something praiseworthy — and then praise yourself.
- Find others also doing something worthwhile and pat them on the back. A small but definite percentage will reciprocate. Our’s is a big world — and if you are alert you will find countless others searching for meaning by benefiting others. Like you, they deserve an occasional pat on the back. Reward good works with unselfish admiration and respect. Give to others and they will give to you.
Albert Einstein once famously remarked, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Since most of our BIG problems are self-created, we need to take Mr. Einstein’s advice and change our thinking.
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