If you find problem-solving to be energizing, you could be the next great entrepreneur. On the other hand, if facing unforeseen problems annoys you and causes ongoing stress, don’t quit your day job. Creating an innovative new business is guaranteed to test your skills, patience and determination, and you need to derive satisfaction from the journey, as well as the destination.
Contrary to a popular myth, problem-solving is a talent that can be developed. To do it well requires a focus on several key activities and practices, including the following:
- Maintain a positive attitude, since startup problems are normal. If you feel angry or exhibit a negative attitude to the team about problems, you will jeopardize the potential success of your startup. Successful problem-solving is often more a state of mind than any particular skill or process.
- Remember that learning requires listening more than talking. The first challenge for many aspiring entrepreneurs is to put aside their passionate advocacy long enough to acknowledge an existing problem. That means practicing non-defensive listening to key advisors, team members and customers. You can’t solve a problem if you don’t see one.
- Openly communicate about each problem and commit to fix it. Entrepreneurs who solve problems well don’t hide them from their teams or make excuses and publicly take responsibility for a timely resolution. It’s smart to outline initial actions, but not so smart to promise any specific solution until you have had time to investigate the source.
- Don’t hesitate to call in an experienced advisor or mentor to help. Very few startup problems are unique. An experienced advisor, board member or investor has seen them all. You can save yourself countless hours of frustration and failed efforts by swallowing your pride, asking for help and following expert suggestions.
- Follow a disciplined analysis before jumping to conclusions. Make sure you have all the facts, as well as insights from relevant sources and outside experts. Don’t let your passions and emotions drive you to a quick judgment, and remember that there are always at least two sides to every question. Practice active listening to get all input.
- Track every problem. Problems become crises when affected people hear nothing or sense that no attention is being paid to the issue. Thus a visible system is required for reporting to all relevant parties, which also keeps your focus on the problem until it is resolved.
- Set deadlines and measure and pay for performance. Remember the old adage that you get what you pay for. If everyone is incented to find new customers, there will be little focus on resolving problems with current ones. Make sure there are metrics for problem counts, resolution time and revenue impact.
- Analyze issues to prevent similar problems. Usually it pays to dig deeper on lost sales opportunities and negative customer reviews to resolve a deep-seated product deficiency or delivery channel issue. Make sure processes are updated, training is improved or priorities are communicated as required.
The best entrepreneurs understand that solving problems is what a business is all about. Of course, problem-solving is required for scaling and continued business growth. It never ends.
Thus, every aspiring entrepreneur needs to develop a problem-solving mindset, and learn to enjoy both the problem and the solution. That mindset will help you develop and survive as a person as well, and build better organizations and communities. Isn’t it time you started celebrating problems rather than complaining about them?
Image credit: CC by Christian Cable