Solving Problems by Understanding Problems
Wouldn’t it be great if your path to profits was easier to navigate?
Charles Kettering was an engineer and inventor and is famous as the founder of Delco, a company that, as many say, brought the automobile into the age of electricity in the early 20th century. Things we take for granted in today’s advanced automobile technologies can trace their roots to his work. He once said: “a problem well-stated is a problem half-solved.”
The way I view this is through the lens of curiosity. Why? Because we often react to a situation and have a knee-jerk response to what we think is the problem, but really, it’s just a symptom of something deeper. We might see things differently if we could slow down and dig deeper.
Senior executives often want their emerging leaders to solve problems and make decisions. Furthermore, they want to know that decisions are made based on relevant data, thoughtful insights, and the right choice from a set of logical solutions.
Unfortunately, the speed of business, demands on our time, and other exigencies seem to put a damper on the practice of problem-solving and decision-making.
The Cost of a Bad Decision
When working with my clients, I often ask about business case success rates, product launch effectiveness, and things that might impact overall business performance. When things don’t go according to plan, there’s a problem. When there’s a variance in your company’s sales figures (you didn’t make your numbers), that’s a problem. When customer complaints are up because you cut costs on quality, that’s a problem.
There are impacts and echoes of cause and effect that reverberate across the organization when things don’t materialize as planned. Are the sales forecast off because it didn’t anticipate a competitor’s move? Did the fact that a senior engineer left the company and the product’s quality suffered from a lack of engineering oversight impact the problem?
Each ‘miss’ is a problem, and the cascading impacts can cost your company a lot of money. This is unacceptable.
Where to Begin?
A problem is best solved when studied from all angles, considering multiple viewpoints. But where do you find the right people to join your problem-solving journey? In my experience, I knew that I had my perspectives based on my knowledge and experience. However, I realized early in my career that many smart people knew how to ask good questions. As I gained more experience, I could put the puzzle pieces together and then re-share with others what I came up with. This collaborative impact on problem discovery is what Kettering meant in the quote I shared earlier. Powerful perspectives are brought into focus when we don’t just look at the symptom. We ask and probe until we figure out what’s at the root of the problem. This mental modeling process is also a great way to build business acumen.
Where to End?
Great problem solvers use data, insights, and pattern mapping. Like lawyers who look at evidence trails and fact patterns, so must businesspeople who aspire to higher levels of management or leadership. While you might get sucked into a vortex of data, you and your team must ensure that you have sufficient data and good subject matter expertise to address issues with agility. If you don’t, you’ll get stuck in a pattern of analysis paralysis.
Your executives count on emerging leaders and managers to exercise good judgment and make good decisions. The more you discover and solve, the better your credibility and reputation. As you progress in your career and build business acumen, you’ll find a more natural rhythm to how you do your job. With this, others will notice how you behave, interact, and gravitate toward you for guidance, coaching, and support. What could be better?