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Business, simplified: It’s about your problem solving approach

Problem solving approach

Even though simplicity in business would be a noble goal, we tend to over-complicate work often. This largely occurs through the application of excess process to areas that don’t need process, although it can take additional forms.

If you really want to break business down to a three-word description of what it really is, though? I got you. Problem solving approach. 

Let’s connect a few dots here.

Examples of the importance of problem solving approach

Here’s a recent article on Medium called “How Not To Start A Startup.” Feels like something more people should discuss openly, yes? In the article, the author shares a video of Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator, talking about the startup path. Paul Graham is super smart (and rich!), so listen to him. Here’s what he says are the only three things that matter for a new business:

  • Good people
  • Make something customers actually want
  • Spend as little money as possible

Amen. No. 2 speaks to your problem solving approach. You can’t just put something on the market. It has to fill a need, scratch an itch, solve a problem.

Now look at this article by Greg Satell about the myths of innovation, including this part:

What I found in researching my book Mapping Innovation is that the truly innovative organizations — not just the one-hit wonders, but those who can reproduce success over many years — don’t look for ideas but for problems to solve. A good problem leads to a sense of purpose and that’s where good ideas really come from.

And then, consider the story of how Instagram was founded. It was literally just a bunch of dudes trying to solve a problem: how to take better phone pics.

Why is this important?

If you’ve ever had a standard white-collar office job, you know this focus on a problem solving approach isn’t very normative. Usually the higher-ups get to do that, often at a retreat, but most of work is:

This is the essential reason a lot of work is a cluster-mess. People rush into action, because action is virtuous, instead of taking time to determine what exactly they’re trying to do (i.e. what problem needs to be solved). It creates a lot of “work for the sake of work,” which we all abhor but somehow continue to tolerate.

How could we develop a better problem solving approach in companies?

Before I answer this, let me admit it will be hard. Why? Because what’s valued at companies — what gets you advanced — is being seen as a good executor. “Problem solving approach” ties to other fluffy concepts like “strategy” and “innovation” that we all claim are important but barely work on within a given year. Don’t believe me and think all the work you do is strategic? You’re lying to yourself, sorry. Read this.

But can it done? Sure.

We love to run around, put ourselves on the cross, and talk about how busy we are. I get it, because some of it is tied to our feelings of self-worth. But if you want me to really simplify business for you, here we go. Ready?

  • Surround yourself with good people
  • Figure out a problem that needs solving
  • Craft a problem solving approach
  • Go get it

Easy enough, right? Well, no, but that’s a topic for another day. Anything else you’d add on the effectiveness of a problem solving approach?

Ted Bauer

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