Fall in love with problems.
Sadly, it happens all too often.
When faced with an undesirable outcome, busy people working in busy businesses, operating in highly competitive industries, encounter a problem. Driven to solve that problem quickly and at minimal cost, they default to ‘solution mode’.
Eager to get it off their desk and without stopping to identify the root cause of the problem, people implement a solution they instinctively think will solve it.
It’s understandable. Our brains are hard-wired to make sense of ambiguous situations and to make quick decisions. It's relatively easy and rewarding to apply a sticking plaster to an immediate challenge, but they often return again and again.
Problems, on the other hand can raise all sorts of practical and social complexities. They raise too many questions. They challenge our assumptions. They force us to confront colleagues who may be contributing to the problem. Problems are a pain! They invariably cost us time and money and they delay progress. We don’t want to think about problems!
Sometimes, a quick solution will work, and the problem doesn’t reoccur. Hey presto! Speed and ingenuity have triumphed – the problem is solved, and its architects have contributed to the future success of the organisation. The adulation flows.
Sometimes … unfortunately, all too often, a solution implemented without fully understanding the problem doesn’t work for very long.
A change within the business - perhaps an unforeseen external event or the action of an individual employee - causes a similar problem or even the same problem to reoccur.
When this happens, the original problem can be compounded, with new or sometimes unrelated problems occurring that add additional layers of complexity that must be unpicked, before the right solution can finally be applied.
Worse still, implementing a solution too quickly might mean another more effective solution that would have led to a similar or better result is missed.
At Qrious, we think there is a better way.
And you’ll be pleased to learn that finding that better way is easy!
All it requires is a top-down, organisational wide cultural change.
Sorry, did we say it was easy?
As any leader knows, cultural change is challenging but small steps are usually the way forward, and when it comes to solving problems, achieving a cultural change requires nothing more than a few small changes in mindset.
Mindset Change #1 Learn to love the problem.
The age-old adage of “bring me solutions not problems” is all well and good but what if the solution being presented is not the best one, and it isn’t solving the right problem?
Instead of only focusing on the solution and thinking of problems as something to be avoided at all costs and dealt with as quickly and cheaply as possible, we think leaders must teach their organisations to love their problems, and to proactively seek out the right problems to drive continuous improvement and innovation.
Here’s three simple tips to help your organisation shift its mindset:
- Stop thinking of problems as something to be avoided. Problems will occur. Give your people permission to speak out when they encounter problems and provide a mechanism that makes it easy for them to do so.
- Encourage people to think differently, to push back, and to challenge assumptions as they discuss problems.
- Avoid jumping to conclusions about the cause of problems and acting impulsively to implement solutions quickly. Create a process for identifying and working on problems that is simple to understand, quick to follow and replicate for anyone working anywhere in your organisation, and which minimises the cost and time of resolution (we’ll be talking more about this in this series).
The goal should be to understand and fix the right problems, and to fix them properly at the first time of asking. We find it a fascinating irony that organisations so often apparently struggle to find the time and money to fix a problem at the first time of asking - but they always seem able to find the time and money to fix it again.
Embrace problems when they occur and have a process in place for resolving them. This will ensure the right problems are fixed, first time, every time.
Mindset Change #2 Acknowledge you might not understand the problem.
“If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it,”
The ability to accurately and succinctly define a problem is arguably one of the most important skills that organisations must learn.
Because a well-defined problem will often contain the seeds of its own solution and defining problems properly makes them easier to solve, therefore saving time, money and resources.
On the other hand, without a clear articulation of a problem, it is impossible to analyse all the contributing factors and actors, or to identify potential solutions and evaluate and pick the best option.
Led by inspired leaders, organisations that embrace problems as opportunities and which are armed with a structured approach to problem solving will create a transformative culture that will improve the lives of employees and customers and create new opportunities.
There are many approaches to problem definition, including, for example: Toyota’s “Five Whys” technique developed for their Six Sigma process improvement programme – a technique we use extensively when working with partners to help them to solve complex business problems. Whichever technique you use, it’s essential that you arrive at a clearly defined and shared understanding of exactly what the problem is, and that you also capture the problem in a problem statement. Only when you’ve clearly defined the problem should you move onto considering and choosing a solution.
Mindset Change #3 Stop thinking a “problem solving meeting” will fix it.
Let’s get this out there: if someone in your team has spotted a problem and has an idea how to solve it, suggesting a meeting to “talk about it” will confuse the problem and likely kill any ideas your team has to solve it. As will suggesting we “take it to a manager” or “escalate it”, asking for a report on it or asking to see the “data on it”.
Ad hoc “problem solving meetings” kill ideas, they don’t solve them unless they’re part of a clear, structured approach to problem solving.
At Qrious we follow a customer-centric approach to problem solving. It starts with using the Five Whys technique to help us define the problem and design thinking, identify and test potential solutions quickly and choose the best solution to implement. We’ll share more about our problem-solving process in a future blog post.
Mindset Change #4 There is no Superman.
In his book , Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Simon Sinek talks about how people’s behaviour is affected by their perceived truths and how the decisions people make – including how they react to problems - are so often based on cognitive bias, i.e. what they think they know, rather than what is empirically true.
I think this part of Sinek’s book highlights the importance of collaboration in problem solving.
The idea that people working together to solve problems is more likely to prevent cognitive bias and achieve a better outcome isn’t new; most organisations recognise the power of collaboration in problem solving.
So why is that when it comes to giving people the headspace and time to work on a problem, many revert to type and the ownership and responsibility for solving a problem falls back to an individual manager?
Very few individuals working in a complex organisation will have the depth of knowledge necessary to solve difficult problems on their own.
There are no Supermen or Superwomen!
Complex organisations operating in fast moving markets and dealing with customers who expect an immediate response, cannot expect individuals to solve problems this way. Effective problem-solving demands collaboration.
So, there it is:
- Learn to love your problems and embrace them as opportunities to improve
- Have a process for defining and solving problems
- Don’t hold problem solving meetings
- Facilitate collaboration between teams to solve problems quickly
How does your organisation deal with problems?
Do you embrace or avoid them? Do you have a clear process for solving them? Do you rely on individuals working in isolation, instinctively acting to solve problems as quickly as possible or do you emphasise the importance of taking time to collaborate with peers and/or colleagues to understand the root cause of a problem and identify potential solutions?
In my next post, I’ll talk about how Qrious works with people and organisations to help them to solve complex business problems and drive innovation.
Our customer-centric approach uses UX design thinking to test potential solutions quickly to help us to identify the best one to implement.
In the meantime, if you’d like to talk to us about how we can help your organisation build a culture of problem solving to drive innovation, go here.