Six Problem-Solving Techniques In Business

Someone once said that businesses are all about solving people’s problems at a profit. Small business owners are constantly putting out fires. In many instances, they head multiple departments which constantly require attention. This makes it crucial to acquire problem-solving techniques.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name ‘Steve Jobs?’ It’s probably Apple, right? And for a good reason.

Steve Jobs changed the game for the industry. He led the Apple company in developing groundbreaking products, including the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. But if we take a closer look, Steve Jobs did so much more than just develop products. 

He ignited the personal computer revolution, revolutionised the sale of music, and shepherded the age of computer animation.

The story goes deep…

In 1985, Jobs was forced out of Apple after a long power struggle. But, by 1997,  Apple’s board of directors soon became disenchanted with the CEO’s inability to turn the company’s finances around.

In 1997, they requested Apple’s prodigal cofounder Steve Jobs to lead the company once again. Jobs quickly forged an alliance with the Microsoft Corporation and simplified the company’s product line. He engineered an award-winning advertising campaign that urged potential customers to “think different” and buy Macintoshes.

Within no time, Apple had rebuilt its brand, and by 2018, it made history by becoming the first publicly traded U.S. company to be valued at $1 trillion.

You see, what made Steve Jobs so great was that he had mastered his problem-solving skills. 

The entire business was built around making people’s lives better. And in an interview when the first Apple store was opened in 2001, Steve Jobs said its function wasn’t to “sell computers” but to “enrich lives.”

Steve Jobs’ Problem-Solving Strategy

Steve’s problem-solving steps were simple: zoom out, focus in, and disconnect.

To zoom out means to look at the bigger picture which helps to identify exactly what you want to achieve and then find ways to do so. Go outside the realm of what is currently possible, and instead think of terms of what could be possible.

Focussing means seeing the problem within the context of your organisation. Set your sights on what you want to achieve and work on it relentlessly – something Jobs was an expert at.

And lastly, disconnect. Whenever you find that you’re unable to find a solution, you need to take a breather. Go for a walk and get some sun. This will help you to think critically and develop solutions.

Six Business Problem-Solving Skills

Since every business owner will face difficulties at one point or the other, it becomes really important that we acquire some problem-solving skills. These help us to get ahead of the issue at hand and tackle it as fast and best as possible.

Here are six problem-solving steps that you need to take for your business:

  1. Open, transparent communication
  2. Be open-minded
  3. Remain calm
  4. Develop a solid foundational strategy
  5. Focus on the bigger picture
  6. Be a preemptive leader

1. Open, Transparent Communication

To solve a problem, you have to first understand it. And the only way to do that is through open, transparent communication. You have to get to the bottom of the problem and fix it all the way up.

It takes a lot for a leader to be open with the rest of the team. You need to be courageous and to understand the benefits of being open as opposed to keeping things to yourself.

Here are 2 techniques that are essential to build this muscle:

Active listening

Communication is a two-way thing, and for you to be heard you have to listen to what’s being said, with the intention of understanding and not responding. Avoid interruptions when the person is speaking. Instead, listen keenly and ask clarifying questions when needed.

It’s important to listen to everyone’s concerns and points of view. Otherwise, you might solve half a problem and find out at the end that there are missing parts to it.

Feedback

A good leader will easily speak their mind, but present it in a respectful and professional way. After all the voices have been heard and all points of view accounted for, the leader, together with the team, can map out a path toward a viable and sustainable solution.

Provide constructive feedback to show that you understood the person’s message and appreciate their input. Acknowledge their effort and provide guidance or support where necessary.

2. Be an Open-Minded Leader

There is more than one way to skin a cat.

One thing that I was told years back that stays with me until today is that everything is justifiable. In order to solve a problem, you have to open your mind to the various ways it can be done.

When brainstorming on ways to solve the issue, be sure to listen to everyone’s ideas without brushing any of them off. You can always pick up something from everyone and come up with a complex solution.

An article on Forbes says that open-minded people see beyond the obvious details before them and view risk as their best friend. They tackle problems head-on and get on with the business of driving growth and innovation. 

Here’s how to become more open-minded:

Recognise your Biases

The beauty of the world is that we are all different. No two people are the same. We don’t see things the same way, we don’t experience the same things. And we all have unique paths in life. Acknowledging that the way you think and behave is shaped by your personal experiences, culture, and upbringing is the first step to overcoming these biases.

Seek Different Perspectives

If you constantly consume information that does not challenge your thought processes, you’ll believe that everything you believe is gospel truth. To become more open minded, actively expose yourself to different cultures, ideas, and perspectives. Talk to people from different backgrounds and read books that challenge your beliefs.

3. Remain Calm

Problems will almost always arise within the workplace, the issue is how to handle them.

A genius problem-solving technique is to remain calm. Because if you try to tackle it in panic mode, you may end up messing up even further.

Staying calm gives you the clarity to think and come up with easy, practical solutions. You’ll be able to think more logically and make decisions accordingly.

It helps you to pause and think instead of reacting automatically and unthinkingly.

To do this, you need to:

Take a Breather

Have you been in a situation where things are just constantly not working out? When you try to solve one problem, another one emerges…

You can only solve this by taking a breather. Walking away from something often gives us clarity and creativity. 

It helps you to manage your emotions better, and acknowledge your feelings but not react impulsively. Remember, your team is looking to you for guidance and stability.

Assess the Situation Objectively

After taking a breather, you are able to look at the situation through a different lens. Step back and evaluate the crisis objectively. Identify the key challenges, risks, and opportunities that it presents. By maintaining a clear perspective, you can make rational decisions rather than succumbing to panic or stress.

Seek Support

Everyone needs support, even leaders. You don’t have to face the crisis by yourself. Seek support from trusted colleagues, mentors, or friends who can provide guidance and a fresh perspective. Talking through your concerns and challenges can help alleviate stress and provide new insights.

4. Develop a Solid Foundational Strategy

To solve any problem, you’ll need a solid strategy. This will guide you through the solution, rather than doing things haphazardly. Have the strategy mapped out on paper and make it known to everyone in your team.

It’s also easier to keep everyone accountable this way since it will be stated exactly who is responsible for performing each role.

Effective leaders know how to gather the right people, resources, budget and knowledge from past experiences.

They anticipate the unexpected and utilise the strengths of their people to assure the strategy leads to a sustainable solution.

With a properly laid out plan, it’s a lot easier to avoid guesswork and eventually solve the issue at hand.

What do you need in your strategy?

Generate the Best Possible Solutions

Once you have a clear understanding of the problem, you need to come up with a list of solutions. You can do this with your team to ensure that you’ve exhausted all the solutions. At this stage, you need to encourage creativity and avoid judgement.

Evaluate the Best Solution

Now that you have a number of possible solutions, you can narrow theme own. Review each solution and evaluate its feasibility, effectiveness, and potential consequences. Consider the resources required, potential risks involved, and the potential impact on stakeholders. Compare the solutions against each other and select the one that seems most suitable.

Develop an Action Plan

With the selected solution, you need to break it down into steps. What needs to be done first? Break the solution into small tasks that you can delegate to different people in your team. Set deadlines and communicate them to everyone.

5. Focus on the Bigger Picture

The truth of the matter is that small business owners don’t have the time, energy and resources to solve EVERY SINGLE PROBLEM.

So what do you do about it? You let some things slide. Stop obsessing over small things, which, in the grand scheme of things won’t matter.

Even so, it’s important to remain conscious of the fact that small things can come up to cause a huge effect on your business, and so not everything should be ignored. 

Don’t be quick to brush off the problems that come about, but instead, take a moment to think about how the situation is going to affect you and your business in the long term.

As a general rule of thumb, use the 80/20 rule when solving problems. In this case, you would resolve 20% of the issues leading to 80% of your problems.

How can you tell when a problem does not require your urgent attention?

Consider the Consequences

The truth is, not every single problem requires your urgent and immediate attention.

Assess the potential consequences of not addressing the problem immediately. Will it escalate into a larger issue or cause further damage if left unresolved?

Analyse the Urgency

Sometimes, when we rush into solving a problem, we may end up making even more mistakes. Certain times call for us to sit back and assess the situation before rushing into it. Urgent problems are time-bound. If they are not sorted out as soon as possible they lead to a ripple of other problems.

Does it require immediate action, or can it be addressed in the near future without causing significant harm?

6. Be a Preemptive Leader

“The wise warrior avoids the battle.” — Sun Tzu

Another very important problem-solving skill is to be preemptive. It will help you to ‘avoid the battle’ in the first place.

How? Try to foresee the possible issues and deal with them as soon as you can.

You must have been in a situation where you can foresee a problem, but you choose to let it sit until it becomes a HUGE ISSUE.

You procrastinate on finding solutions to the small crack until the entire wall comes crushing down.

In short, do things that prevent bad things from happening and encourage good things to happen.

A true leader solves problems preemptively and rarely makes the same mistake twice.

Being pre-emptive involves:

Stay Informed and Updated

Staying up to date will help you to foresee challenges, and this is one of the most essential problem-solving techniques – To avoid the problem in the first place.

Engage in continuous learning and seek out information from various sources such as industry publications, conferences, and networking events. This knowledge will enable you to anticipate potential challenges and opportunities.

Lead by Example

Pointing fingers is an easy way out. And if you focus on the problem, the problem continues to get bigger.

A good leader avoids pointing fingers as much as they can. Blaming others doesn’t solve a problem, it just makes the people resentful and defensive.

Even if it’s crystal clear who is to blame for the problem, there’s a way to teach them to do better next time without constantly making it known that they’re at fault.

Take accountability for your actions, and encourage this among your team. But before the problem is solved, do not blame people left right and centre for their mistakes.

Our Problem-Solving Techniques Summarised

Solving problems is an art. It requires a leader to pause, take a step back, and think clearly. If done correctly, a problem can turn out to be a bonding experience within an organisation. It can lead to bigger opportunities and blessings.

The thing is, there will always be problems within the workplace. It’s how you deal with them that counts.

In conclusion, here are the 7 best ways to solve problems as a leader:

  1. Have open, transparent communication
  2. Be open-minded
  3. Remain calm
  4. Develop a solid foundational strategy
  5. Focus on the bigger picture
  6. Be preemptive

If you could do with some support in growing your business, get in touch – at Outside ideas we’re on a mission to help people and businesses grow.

Onwards and Upwards my friend.

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