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10 Step Process for Effective Business Problem Solving

Posted august 3, 2021 by harriet genever.

Navigate uncertainty by following this 10-step process to develop your problem-solving skills and approach any issue with confidence. 

When you start a small business or launch a startup, the one thing you can count on is the unexpected. No matter how thoroughly you plan, forecast , and test, problems are bound to arise. This is why as an entrepreneur, you need to know how to solve business problems effectively.

What is problem solving in business?

Problem solving in business relates to establishing processes that mitigate or remove obstacles currently preventing you from reaching strategic goals . These are typically complex issues that create a gap between actual results and your desired outcome. They may be present in a single team, operational process, or throughout your entire organization, typically without an immediate or obvious solution. 

To approach problem solving successfully, you need to establish consistent processes that help you evaluate, explore solutions, prioritize execution, and measure success. In many ways, it should be similar to how you review business performance through a monthly plan review . You work through the same documentation, look for gaps, dig deeper to identify the root cause, and hash out options. Without this process, you simply cannot expect to solve problems efficiently or effectively. 

Why problem solving is important for your business

While some would say problem-solving comes naturally, it’s actually a skill you can grow and refine over time. Problem solving skills will help you and your team tackle critical issues and conflicts as they arise. It starts from the top. You as the business owner or CEO needing to display the type of level-headed problem solving that you expect to see from your employees.

Doing so will help you and your staff quickly deal with issues, establish and refine a problem solving process, turn challenges into opportunities, and generally keep a level head. Now, the best business leaders didn’t just find a magic solution to solve their problems, they built processes and leveraged tools to find success. And you can do the same.

By following this 10-step process, you can develop your problem-solving skills and approach any issue that arises with confidence. 

1. Define the problem

When a problem arises, it can be very easy to jump right into creating a solution. However, if you don’t thoroughly examine what led to the problem in the first place, you may create a strategy that doesn’t actually solve it. You may just be treating the symptoms.

For instance, if you realize that your sales from new customers are dropping, your first inclination might be to rush into putting together a marketing plan to increase exposure. But what if decreasing sales are just a symptom of the real problem? 

When you define the problem, you want to be sure you’re not missing the forest for the trees. If you have a large issue on your hands, you’ll want to look at it from several different angles:

Competition 

Is a competitor’s promotion or pricing affecting your sales? Are there new entrants in your market? How are they marketing their product or business?

Business model 

Is your business model sustainable? Is it realistic for how fast you want to grow? Should you explore different pricing or cost strategies?

Market factors

How are world events and the nation’s economy affecting your customers and your sales?

Are there any issues affecting your team? Do they have the tools and resources they need to succeed? 

Goal alignment 

Is everyone on your team working toward the same goal ? Have you communicated your short-term and long-term business goals clearly and often?

There are a lot of ways to approach the issue when you’re facing a serious business problem. The key is to make sure you’re getting a full snapshot of what’s going on so you don’t waste money and resources on band-aid solutions. 

Going back to our example, by looking at every facet of your business, you may discover that you’re spending more on advertising than your competitors already. And instead, there’s a communication gap within your team that’s leading to the mishandling of new customers and therefore lost sales. 

If you jumped into fixing the exposure of your brand, you would have been dumping more money into an area you’re already winning. Potentially leading to greater losses as more and more new customers are dropped due to poor internal communication.

This is why it’s so vital that you explore your blind spots and track the problem to its source.

2. Conduct a SWOT analysis

All good businesses solve some sort of problem for customers. What if your particular business problem is actually an opportunity, or even a strength if considered from a different angle? This is when you’d want to conduct a SWOT analysis to determine if that is in fact the case.

SWOT is a great tool for strategic planning and bringing multiple viewpoints to the table when you’re looking at investing resources to solve a problem. This may even be incorporated in your attempts to identify the source of your problem, as it can quickly outline specific strengths and weaknesses of your business. And then by identifying any potential opportunities or threats, you can utilize your findings to kickstart a solution. 

3. Identify multiple solutions with design thinking

As you approach solving your problem, you may want to consider using the design thinking approach . It’s often used by organizations looking to solve big, community-based problems. One of its strengths is that it requires involving a wide range of people in the problem-solving process. Which leads to multiple perspectives and solutions arising.

This approach—applying your company’s skills and expertise to a problem in the market—is the basis for design thinking.

It’s not about finding the most complex problems to solve, but about finding common needs within the organization and in the real world and coming up with solutions that fit those needs. When you’re solving business problems, this applies in the sense that you’re looking for solutions that address underlying issues—you’re looking at the big picture.

4. Conduct market research and customer outreach

Market research and customer outreach aren’t the sorts of things small business owners and startups can do once and then cross off the list. When you’re facing a roadblock, think back to the last time you did some solid market research or took a deep dive into understanding the competitive landscape .

Market research and the insights you get from customer outreach aren’t a silver bullet. Many companies struggle with what they should do with conflicting data points. But it’s worth struggling through and gathering information that can help you better understand your target market . Plus, your customers can be one of the best sources of criticism. It’s actually a gift if you can avoid taking the negatives personally .

The worst thing you can do when you’re facing challenges is isolating yourself from your customers and ignore your competition. So survey your customers. Put together a competitive matrix . 

5. Seek input from your team and your mentors

Don’t do your SWOT analysis or design thinking work by yourself. The freedom to express concerns, opinions, and ideas will allow people in an organization to speak up. Their feedback is going to help you move faster and more efficiently. If you have a team in place, bring them into the discussion. You hired them to be experts in their area; use their expertise to navigate and dig deeper into underlying causes of problems and potential solutions.

If you’re running your business solo, at least bring in a trusted mentor. SCORE offers a free business mentorship program if you don’t already have one. It can also be helpful to connect with a strategic business advisor , especially if business financials aren’t your strongest suit.

Quoting Stephen Covey, who said that “strength lies in differences, not in similarities,” speaking to the importance of diversity when it comes to problem-solving in business. The more diverse a team is , the more often innovative solutions to the problems faced by the organization appear.

In fact, it has been found that groups that show greater diversity were better at solving problems than groups made up specifically of highly skilled problem solvers. So whoever you bring in to help you problem-solve, resist the urge to surround yourself with people who already agree with you about everything.

6. Apply lean planning for nimble execution

So you do your SWOT analysis and your design thinking exercise. You come up with a set of strong, data-driven ideas. But implementing them requires you to adjust your budget, or your strategic plan, or even your understanding of your target market.

Are you willing to change course? Can you quickly make adjustments? Well in order to grow, you can’t be afraid to be nimble . 

By adopting the lean business planning method —the process of revising your business strategy regularly—you’ll be able to shift your strategies more fluidly. You don’t want to change course every week, and you don’t want to fall victim to shiny object thinking. But you can strike a balance that allows you to reduce your business’s risk while keeping your team heading in the right direction.

Along the way, you’ll make strategic decisions that don’t pan out the way you hoped. The best thing you can do is test your ideas and iterate often so you’re not wasting money and resources on things that don’t work. That’s Lean Planning .

7. Model different financial scenarios

When you’re trying to solve a serious business problem, one of the best things you can do is build a few different financial forecasts so you can model different scenarios. You might find that the idea that seemed the strongest will take longer than you thought to reverse a negative financial trend. At the very least you’ll have better insight into the financial impact of moving in a different direction.

The real benefit here is looking at different tactical approaches to the same problem. Maybe instead of increasing sales right now, you’re better off in the long run if you adopt a strategy to reduce churn and retain your best customers. You won’t know unless you model a few different scenarios. You can do this by using spreadsheets, and a tool like LivePlan can make it easier and quicker.

8. Watch your cash flow

While you’re working to solve a challenging business problem, pay particular attention to your cash flow and your cash flow forecast . Understanding when your company is at risk of running out of cash in the bank can help you be proactive. It’s a lot easier to get a line of credit while your financials still look good and healthy, than when you’re one pay period away from ruin.

If you’re dealing with a serious issue, it’s easy to start to get tunnel vision. You’ll benefit from maintaining a little breathing room for your business as you figure out what to do next.

9. Use a decision-making framework

Once you’ve gathered all the information you need, generated a number of ideas, and done some financial modeling, you might still feel uncertain. It’s natural—you’re not a fortune-teller. You’re trying to make the best decision you can with the information you have.

This article offers a really useful approach to making decisions. It starts with putting your options into a matrix like this one:

resources needed to solve business problems

Use this sort of framework to put everything you’ve learned out on the table. If you’re working with a bigger team, this sort of exercise can also bring the rest of your team to the table so they feel some ownership over the outcome.

10. Identify key metrics to track

How will you know your problem is solved? And not just the symptom—how will you know when you’ve addressed the underlying issues? Before you dive into enacting the solution, make sure you know what success looks like.

Decide on a few key performance indicators . Take a baseline measurement, and set a goal and a timeframe. You’re essentially translating your solution into a plan, complete with milestones and goals. Without these, you’ve simply made a blind decision with no way to track success. You need those goals and milestones to make your plan real .

Problem solving skills to improve

As you and your team work through this process, it’s worth keeping in mind specific problem solving skills you should continue to develop. Bolstering your ability, as well as your team, to solve problems effectively will only make this process more useful and efficient. Here are a few key skills to work on.

Emotional intelligence

It can be very easy to make quick, emotional responses in a time of crisis or when discussing something you’re passionate about. To avoid making assumptions and letting your emotions get the best of you, you need to focus on empathizing with others. This involves understanding your own emotional state, reactions and listening carefully to the responses of your team. The more you’re able to listen carefully, the better you’ll be at asking for and taking advice that actually leads to effective problem solving.

Jumping right into a solution can immediately kill the possibility of solving your problem. Just like when you start a business , you need to do the research into what the problem you’re solving actually is. Luckily, you can embed research into your problem solving by holding active reviews of financial performance and team processes. Simply asking “What? Where? When? How?” can lead to more in-depth explorations of potential issues.

The best thing you can do to grow your research abilities is to encourage and practice curiosity. Look at every problem as an opportunity. Something that may be trouble now, but is worth exploring and finding the right solution. You’ll pick up best practices, useful tools and fine-tune your own research process the more you’re willing to explore.

Brainstorming

Creatively brainstorming with your team is somewhat of an art form. There needs to be a willingness to throw everything at the wall and act as if nothing is a bad idea at the start. This style of collaboration encourages participation without fear of rejection. It also helps outline potential solutions outside of your current scope, that you can refine and turn into realistic action.

Work on breaking down problems and try to give everyone in the room a voice. The more input you allow, the greater potential you have for finding the best solution.

Decisiveness

One thing that can drag out acting upon a potential solution, is being indecisive. If you aren’t willing to state when the final cutoff for deliberation is, you simply won’t take steps quickly enough. This is when having a process for problem solving comes in handy, as it purposefully outlines when you should start taking action.

Work on choosing decision-makers, identify necessary results and be prepared to analyze and adjust if necessary. You don’t have to get it right every time, but taking action at the right time, even if it fails, is almost more vital than never taking a step.  

Stemming off failure, you need to learn to be resilient. Again, no one gets it perfect every single time. There are so many factors in play to consider and sometimes even the most well-thought-out solution doesn’t stick. Instead of being down on yourself or your team, look to separate yourself from the problem and continue to think of it as a puzzle worth solving. Every failure is a learning opportunity and it only helps you further refine and eliminate issues in your strategy.

Problem solving is a process

The key to effective problem-solving in business is the ability to adapt. You can waste a lot of resources on staying the wrong course for too long. So make a plan to reduce your risk now. Think about what you’d do if you were faced with a problem large enough to sink your business. Be as proactive as you can.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2016. It was updated in 2021.

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Harriet Genever

Harriet Genever

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MBA 523 Business Problem Solving: Resources for Problem Solving

  • Resources for Problem Solving
  • Articles & Databases
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Business Problem Solving Resources

You need to use a variety of sources to come to satisfactory methods to solve a specific problem such as web resources, books, articles, blogs, statistics, and news reports. Use them all! 

resources needed to solve business problems

Web Resources

There are literally millions of websites that discuss business problem solving techniques. Listed below are a few from trusted sources.

  • The 4 Most Effective Ways Leaders Solve Problems From the Forbes web site.
  • Are you Solving the Right Problem? From Harvard Business Review. Search in Business Source Complete for additional Harvard Business Review articles.
  • Nine Steps to Effective Business Problem Solving This is an article from Business Insider which recaps a formula from Brian Tracy, in his book "The Power of Self-Discipline" .
  • Problem Solving and Decision Making Free Management Library is provided by Authenticity Consulting, LLC, as a free community resource.
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  • Last Updated: Feb 7, 2024 1:44 PM
  • URL: https://marymount.libguides.com/MBA_523_Bus_Prob_Solving

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Six problem-solving mindsets for very uncertain times

Great problem solvers are made, not born. That’s what we’ve found after decades of problem solving with leaders across business, nonprofit, and policy sectors. These leaders learn to adopt a particularly open and curious mindset, and adhere to a systematic process for cracking even the most inscrutable problems. They’re terrific problem solvers under any conditions. And when conditions of uncertainty are at their peak, they’re at their brilliant best.

Six mutually reinforcing approaches underly their success: (1) being ever-curious about every element of a problem; (2) being imperfectionists , with a high tolerance for ambiguity; (3) having a “dragonfly eye” view of the world, to see through multiple lenses; (4) pursuing occurrent behavior and experimenting relentlessly; (5) tapping into the collective intelligence , acknowledging that the smartest people are not in the room; and (6) practicing “show and tell” because storytelling begets action (exhibit).

Here’s how they do it.

1. Be ever-curious

As any parent knows, four-year-olds are unceasing askers. Think of the never-ending “whys” that make little children so delightful—and relentless. For the very young, everything is new and wildly uncertain. But they’re on a mission of discovery, and they’re determined to figure things out. And they’re good at it! That high-energy inquisitiveness is why we have high shelves and childproof bottles.

When you face radical uncertainty, remember your four-year-old or channel the four-year-old within you. Relentlessly ask, “Why is this so?” Unfortunately, somewhere between preschool and the boardroom, we tend to stop asking. Our brains make sense of massive numbers of data points by imposing patterns that have worked for us and other humans in the past. That’s why a simple technique, worth employing at the beginning of problem solving, is simply to pause and ask why conditions or assumptions are so until you arrive at the root of the problem. 1 This approach was originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota.

Natural human biases in decision making, including confirmation, availability, and anchoring biases, often cause us to shut down the range of solutions too early. 2 Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow , New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011. Better—and more creative—solutions come from being curious about the broader range of potential answers.

One simple suggestion from author and economist Caroline Webb to generate more curiosity in team problem solving is to put a question mark behind your initial hypotheses or first-cut answers. This small artifice is surprisingly powerful: it tends to encourage multiple solution paths and puts the focus, correctly, on assembling evidence. We also like thesis/antithesis, or red team/blue team, sessions, in which you divide a group into opposing teams that argue against the early answers—typically, more traditional conclusions that are more likely to come from a conventional pattern. Why is this solution better? Why not that one? We’ve found that better results come from embracing uncertainty. Curiosity is the engine of creativity.

We have to be comfortable with estimating probabilities to make good decisions, even when these guesses are imperfect. Unfortunately, we have truckloads of evidence showing that human beings aren’t good intuitive statisticians.

2. Tolerate ambiguity—and stay humble!

When we think of problem solvers, many of us tend to picture a poised and brilliant engineer. We may imagine a mastermind who knows what she’s doing and approaches a problem with purpose. The reality, though, is that most good problem solving has a lot of trial and error; it’s more like the apparent randomness of rugby than the precision of linear programming. We form hypotheses, porpoise into the data, and then surface and refine (or throw out) our initial guess at the answer. This above all requires an embrace of imperfection and a tolerance for ambiguity—and a gambler’s sense of probabilities.

The real world is highly uncertain. Reality unfolds as the complex product of stochastic events and human reactions. The impact of COVID-19 is but one example: we address the health and economic effects of the disease, and their complex interactions, with almost no prior knowledge. We have to be comfortable with estimating probabilities to make good decisions, even when these guesses are imperfect. Unfortunately, we have truckloads of evidence showing that human beings aren’t good intuitive statisticians. Guesses based on gut instinct can be wildly wrong. That’s why one of the keys to operating in uncertain environments is epistemic humility, which Erik Angner defines as “the realization that our knowledge is always provisional and incomplete—and that it might require revision in light of new evidence.” 3 Erik Angner, “Epistemic humility—knowing your limits in a pandemic,” Behavioral Scientist , April 13, 2020, behavioralscientist.org.

Recent research shows that we are better at solving problems when we think in terms of odds rather than certainties. 4 Annie Duke, Thinking in Terms of Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts , New York, NY: Portfolio/Penguin, 2018. For example, when the Australian research body Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), which owned a core patent on the wireless internet protocol, sought royalties from major companies, it was initially rebuffed. The CSIRO bet that it could go to court to protect its intellectual property because it estimated that it needed only 10 percent odds of success for this to be a good wager, given the legal costs and likely payoff. It improved its odds by picking the weakest of the IP violators and selecting a legal jurisdiction that favored plaintiffs. This probabilistic thinking paid off and eventually led to settlements to CSIRO exceeding $500 million. 5 CSIRO briefing to US Government, December 5, 2006. A tolerance for ambiguity and a willingness to play the odds helped the organization feel its way to a good solution path.

To embrace imperfectionism with epistemic humility, start by challenging solutions that imply certainty. You can do that in the nicest way by asking questions such as “What would we have to believe for this to be true?” This brings to the surface implicit assumptions about probabilities and makes it easier to assess alternatives. When uncertainty is high, see if you can make small moves or acquire information at a reasonable cost to edge out into a solution set. Perfect knowledge is in short supply, particularly for complex business and societal problems. Embracing imperfection can lead to more effective problem solving. It’s practically a must in situations of high uncertainty, such as the beginning of a problem-solving process or during an emergency.

Good problem solving typically involves designing experiments to reduce key uncertainties. Each move provides additional information and builds capabilities.

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3. take a dragonfly-eye view.

Dragonfly-eye perception is common to great problem solvers. Dragonflies have large, compound eyes, with thousands of lenses and photoreceptors sensitive to different wavelengths of light. Although we don’t know exactly how their insect brains process all this visual information, by analogy they see multiple perspectives not available to humans. The idea of a dragonfly eye taking in 360 degrees of perception 6 Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction , New York, NY: Crown, 2015. is an attribute of “superforecasters”—people, often without domain expertise, who are the best at forecasting events.

Think of this as widening the aperture on a problem or viewing it through multiple lenses. The object is to see beyond the familiar tropes into which our pattern-recognizing brains want to assemble perceptions. By widening the aperture, we can identify threats or opportunities beyond the periphery of vision.

Consider the outbreak of HIV in India in the early 1990s—a major public-health threat. Ashok Alexander, director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s India Aids Initiative, provided a brilliant example of not just vision but also dragonfly vision. Facing a complex social map with a rapidly increasing infection rate, he widened the problem’s definition, from a traditional epidemiological HIV transmission model at known “hot spots,” to one in which sex workers facing violence were made the centerpiece.

This approach led to the “Avahan solution,” which addressed a broader set of leverage points by including the sociocultural context of sex work. The solution was rolled out to more than 600 communities and eventually credited with preventing 600,000 infections. The narrow medical perspective was sensible and expected, but it didn’t tap into the related issue of violence against sex workers, which yielded a richer solution set. Often, a secret unlocks itself only when one looks at a problem from multiple perspectives, including some that initially seem orthogonal.

The secret to developing a dragonfly-eye view is to “anchor outside” rather than inside when faced with problems of uncertainty and opportunity. Take the broader ecosystem as a starting point. That will encourage you to talk with customers, suppliers, or, better yet, players in a different but related industry or space. Going through the customer journey with design-thinking in mind is another powerful way to get a 360-degree view of a problem. But take note: when decision makers face highly constrained time frames or resources, they may have to narrow the aperture and deliver a tight, conventional answer.

Want better strategies? Become a bulletproof problem solver

Want better strategies? Become a bulletproof problem solver

4. pursue occurrent behavior.

Occurrent behavior is what actually happens in a time and place, not what was potential or predicted behavior. Complex problems don’t give up their secrets easily. But that shouldn’t deter problem solvers from exploring whether evidence on the facets of a solution can be observed, or running experiments to test hypotheses. You can think of this approach as creating data rather than just looking for what has been collected already. It’s critical for new market entry—or new market creation. It also comes in handy should you find that crunching old data is leading to stale solutions.

Most of the problem-solving teams we are involved with have twin dilemmas of uncertainty and complexity, at times combined as truly “wicked problems.” 7 A term coined in a now famous 1973 article: Horst W. J. Rittel and Melvin Webber, “Dilemmas in a general theory of planning,” Policy Sciences , 1973, Number 4, pp. 155–69. For companies ambitious to win in the great unknown in an emerging segment—such as electric cars or autonomous vehicles, where the market isn’t fully established—good problem solving typically involves designing experiments to reduce key uncertainties, not just relying on existing data. Each move (such as buying IP or acquiring a component supplier) and each experiment (including on-road closed tests) not only provides additional information to make decisions but also builds capabilities and assets that support further steps. Over time, their experiments, including alliances and acquisitions, come to resemble staircases that lead to either the goal or to abandonment of the goal. Problem-solving organizations can “bootstrap” themselves into highly uncertain new spaces, building information, foundational assets, and confidence as they take steps forward.

Risk-embracing problem solvers find a solution path by constantly experimenting. Statisticians use the abbreviation EVPI—the expected value of perfect information—to show the value of gaining additional information that typically comes from samples and experiments, such as responses to price changes in particular markets. A/B testing is a powerful tool for experimenting with prices, promotions, and other features and is particularly useful for digital marketplaces and consumer goods. Online marketplaces make A/B testing easy. Yet most conventional markets also offer opportunities to mimic the market’s segmentation and use it to test different approaches.

The mindset required to be a restless experimenter is consistent with the notion in start-ups of “failing fast.” It means that you get product and customer affirmation or rejection quickly through beta tests and trial offerings. Don’t take a lack of external data as an impediment—it may actually be a gift, since purchasable data is almost always from a conventional way of meeting needs, and is available to your competitors too. Your own experiments allow you to generate your own data; this gives you insights that others don’t have. If it is difficult (or unethical) to experiment, look for the “natural experiments” provided by different policies in similar locations. An example would be to compare outcomes in twin cities, such as Minneapolis–St. Paul.

It’s a mistake to think that your team has the smartest people in the room. They aren’t there. They’re invariably somewhere else. Nor do they need to be there if you can access their intelligence via other means.

5. Tap into collective intelligence and the wisdom of the crowd

Chris Bradley, a coauthor of Strategy Beyond the Hockey Stick , 8 Chris Bradley, Marin Hirt, and Sven Smit, Strategy Beyond the Hockey Stick: People, Probabilities, and Big Moves to Beat the Odds , Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2018. observed that “it’s a mistake to think that on your team you have the smartest people in the room. They aren’t there. They’re invariably somewhere else.” 9 For more from Chris Bradley, in a conversation with Rob McLean, see “ Want better strategies? Become a bulletproof problem solver ,” August 2019. Nor do they need to be there if you can access their intelligence via other means. In an ever-changing world where conditions can evolve unpredictably, crowdsourcing invites the smartest people in the world to work with you. For example, in seeking a machine-learning algorithm to identify fish catch species and quantities on fishing boats, the Nature Conservancy (TNC) turned to Kaggle and offered a $150,000 prize for the best algorithm. This offer attracted 2,293 teams from all over the world. TNC now uses the winning algorithm to identify fish types and sizes caught on fishing boats in Asia to protect endangered Pacific tuna and other species.

Crowdsourced problem solving is familiar in another guise: benchmarking. When Sir Rod Carnegie was CEO of Conzinc Riotinto Australia (CRA), he was concerned about the costs of unscheduled downtime with heavy trucks, particularly those requiring tire changes. He asked his management team who was best in the world at changing tires; their answer was Formula One, the auto racing competition. A team traveled to the United Kingdom to learn best practice for tire changes in racetrack pits and then implemented what it learned thousands of miles away, in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The smartest team for this problem wasn’t in the mining industry at all.

Of course, while crowdsourcing can be useful when conventional thinking yields solutions that are too expensive or incomplete for the challenge at hand, it has its limitations. Good crowdsourcing takes time to set up, can be expensive, and may signal to your competitors what you are up to. Beware of hidden costs, such as inadvertently divulging information and having to sieve through huge volumes of irrelevant, inferior suggestions to find the rare gem of a solution.

Accept that it’s OK to draw on diverse experiences and expertise other than your own. Start with brainstorming sessions that engage people from outside your team. Try broader crowdsourcing competitions to generate ideas. Or bring in deep-learning talent to see what insights exist in your data that conventional approaches haven’t brought to light. The broader the circles of information you access, the more likely it is that your solutions will be novel and creative.

Rookie problem solvers show you their analytic process and math to convince you they are clever. Seasoned problem solvers show you differently.

6. Show and tell to drive action

We started our list of mindsets with a reference to children, and we return to children now, with “show and tell.” As you no doubt remember—back when you were more curious!—show and tell is an elementary-school activity. It’s not usually associated with problem solving, but it probably piqued your interest. In fact, this approach is critical to problem solving. Show and tell is how you connect your audience with the problem and then use combinations of logic and persuasion to get action.

The show-and-tell mindset aims to bring decision makers into a problem-solving domain you have created. A team from the Nature Conservancy, for instance, was presenting a proposal asking a philanthropic foundation to support the restoration of oyster reefs. Before the presentation, the team brought 17 plastic buckets of water into the boardroom and placed them around the perimeter. When the foundation’s staff members entered the room, they immediately wanted to know what the buckets were for. The team explained that oyster-reef restoration massively improves water quality because each oyster filters 17 buckets of water per day. Fish stocks improve, and oysters can also be harvested to help make the economics work. The decision makers were brought into the problem-solving domain through show and tell. They approved the funding requested and loved the physical dimension of the problem they were part of solving.

Rookie problem solvers show you their analytic process and mathematics to convince you that they are clever. That’s sometimes called APK, the anxious parade of knowledge. But seasoned problem solvers show you differently. The most elegant problem solving is that which makes the solution obvious. The late economist Herb Simon put it this way: “Solving a problem simply means representing it so as to make the solution transparent.” 10 Herbert Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial , Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1969.

To get better at show and tell, start by being clear about the action that should flow from your problem solving and findings: the governing idea for change. Then find a way to present your logic visually so that the path to answers can be debated and embraced. Present the argument emotionally as well as logically, and show why the preferred action offers an attractive balance between risks and rewards. But don’t stop there. Spell out the risks of inaction, which often have a higher cost than imperfect actions have.

The mindsets of great problem solvers are just as important as the methods they employ. A mindset that encourages curiosity, embraces imperfection, rewards a dragonfly-eye view of the problem, creates new data from experiments and collective intelligence, and drives action through compelling show-and-tell storytelling creates radical new possibilities under high levels of unpredictability. Of course, these approaches can be helpful in a broad range of circumstances, but in times of massive uncertainty, they are essential.

Charles Conn is an alumnus of McKinsey’s Sydney office and is a board member of Patagonia and former CEO of the Rhodes Trust. Robert McLean is an alumnus of the Sydney office and is the advisory-board chair of the Nature Conservancy Australia. They are the authors of Bulletproof Problem Solving: The One Skill That Changes Everything (Wiley, 2018).

This article was edited by David Schwartz, an executive editor in the Tel Aviv office.

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How to Solve Problems

  • Laura Amico

resources needed to solve business problems

To bring the best ideas forward, teams must build psychological safety.

Teams today aren’t just asked to execute tasks: They’re called upon to solve problems. You’d think that many brains working together would mean better solutions, but the reality is that too often problem-solving teams fall victim to inefficiency, conflict, and cautious conclusions. The two charts below will help your team think about how to collaborate better and come up with the best solutions for the thorniest challenges.

  • Laura Amico is a former senior editor at Harvard Business Review.

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How to Solve Business Problems

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The ultimate guide to finding and solving your biggest challenges

What are common business roadblocks?

While every business faces unique challenges, common roadblocks that affect many organizations include:

  • changing customer and market needs;
  • lack of internal collaboration and alignment; and
  • ineffective decision making.

Underpinning each of these challenges is a failure to proactively identify and solve business problems, leading to   inefficient internal processes , sluggish   product innovation   and   diminished employee engagement .

Creating a bottom-up system for finding and solving business problems — a process also known as discovery — is essential to tackling any roadblock that may arise.

Why does having a system for solving business problems matter?

To solve problems effectively, businesses must maintain a scalable and repeatable system to explore problems and implement high-impact solutions. A complete problem-solving system is comprised of your  culture, processes and technology , which work together to empower employees to discover problems and drive solutions forward.

If you want innovative solutions that solve meaningful problems and tackle promising opportunities, you need a culture that promotes creativity and supports individuals in exploring problems and testing solutions. Your culture should   empower   everyone   in the process of identifying, prioritizing and solving challenges, driving meaningful change and buy-in from the bottom up.

The processes that enable your problem-solving system are crucial. For example, standardized processes for   exploring a problem   set the groundwork for better, more consistent solutions, while processes for running experiments and gathering data will help you make faster, smarter and more confident decisions. Your problem-solving processes should be efficient, eliminating any unnecessary bottlenecks or redundancies to maintain momentum.

It goes without saying that any technology you use in your problem-solving system should make your job easier, not harder. The technology you use should support collaboration, communication and transparency, and it should allow for process-driven workflows and simple administration.

How to foster a problem-solving culture

Building a   problem-solving culture   requires alignment, trust and long-term strategies that empower employees to engage in meaningful discovery. Here are four steps that will help you get started:

Step 1: Create missionaries

Before you can enable discovery, you must ensure your employees are bought into and understand the high-level objectives that underpin their problem-solving efforts. In other words, what is your organization trying to achieve? How can your employees help you move closer to those goals through discovery? Defining and communicating these guiding principles will motivate employees to solve high-value problems.

Step 2: Make discovery a priority

Once your discovery objectives have been defined, you'll need to make discovery a priority for employees. The key to making discovery a priority is a balance of discipline, permission and action:

  • Discipline   means clarity and consistency around purpose, objectives and processes.
  • Permission   means providing employees with frequent opportunities to engage in discovery, and continuously supporting, promoting and celebrating that engagement.
  • Action   means outcomes; doing something!

Step 3: Balance structure and freedom

As you enable discovery, you'll want to strike a delicate balance between structure and freedom. Too many restrictions or excessive micromanagement will stifle creativity and consequently influence outcomes. On the other hand, too much freedom during the discovery process will lead to scattered efforts that don't align with your company mission and objectives.

Step 4: Reward curiosity

Employees that consistently identify problems worth solving and constructively help solve those problems are critical to your business' success. Organizations should reward curiosity, encouraging successful problem solvers — and others — to keep going.

How to Test and Validate Business Ideas

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Tools that enable business problem solving

While discovery is very much a problem-solving mindset, the tools you use along the way are equally important in helping you drive efficient and effective outcomes. During the problem-solving process, you'll want to employ tools that can:

  • organize and track problem-solving efforts;
  • centralize communications and provide open feedback loops;
  • support repeatable, process-driven workflows; and
  • document progress toward checkpoints and goals.

These tools can help streamline collaboration, boost accountability and enable best practices — but remember, less is more. Too many tools can create unnecessary silos, inefficiencies and blind spots leading to missed opportunities and lost momentum. Ideally, you want a   single source of truth   that encompasses all of the functionality above and eliminates extra steps.

Pitfalls of not using a problem-solving solution

Without a dedicated problem-solving solution, you may struggle to coordinate your discovery efforts across a disjointed array of tools. For example, your team might communicate in a messaging platform, organize sprints in a project management tool and accept idea solutions via a form on your website. While this strategy isn't necessarily wrong, it's easy to see how using so many different tools in different locations can exacerbate   silos, bottlenecks, redundancies and inefficiencies.

For example, if someone on your sales team recognizes an opportunity to improve the sales-to-service handoff process, they should be able to quickly and easily collaborate with teammates from the services, customer success and operations departments to explore the opportunity further. But without a dedicated problem-solving solution, how would they go about starting that conversation? Should they start a new email thread? Drop their idea into an existing group message full of other ideas? Route it through management and hope it lands in the right place? And what if someone from another department with valuable insights is left out of the thread?

As you can see, failure to use the right tools can stop a valuable idea in its tracks at any point in the discovery journey.

Key features of a business problem solving solution

Any business problem solving solution should contain some key features that will empower your team to work effectively and efficiently. The first of which is   open collaboration . This feature is essential because as organizations scale, it becomes harder to facilitate cross-functional problem solving. A platform that allows everyone — regardless of their department, role or experience — to provide and cross pollinate ideas and feedback will eliminate silos and help your team design better solutions.

Additionally, your solution should support   ease of administration . With a steady stream of incoming ideas and multiple projects happening simultaneously, it's easy for projects to slip through the cracks, miss deadlines or be abandoned entirely. Your problem-solving solution should enable administrators to easily track and manage projects throughout the innovation lifecycle, ensuring ideas move efficiently from submission to implementation.

What to look for in a solution

As you evaluate potential solutions,   keep an eye out for the following attributes :

1. Open, visible communication

Imagine trying to solve a puzzle with a group of friends, but you can only communicate in silos and no one can see the entire puzzle. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happens when your problem solving solution does not support open, visible communication.

When evaluating team collaboration tools on the basis of communication, keep in mind:

  • How organized the communication is: is engagement categorized, sorted and searchable? Are communications easy to find and preserved within the tool?
  • How visible the communication is: does the tool break down communication silos and increase visibility for everyone? Are feedback loops clear and consistent?

2. Repeatable, process-driven workflows

The true value of a collaboration tool lies in its ability to support repeatable, process-driven workflows. Some key criteria to look out for include:

  • the ability to break down projects into repeatable, clear, deadline-driven sprints;
  • the ability to easily understand project status and progression;
  • the ability to manage engagement and project life cycles, and
  • the ability to measure success and continuously improve the workflows over time.

3. Simple, efficient management

Your team collaboration tools should also make it easy to administer collaboration projects. This includes the ability to:

  • design and modify projects efficiently;
  • coordinate and view participants ;
  • outline and update clear deliverables and expectations;
  • respond to and incorporate changes with agility;
  • manage communications and feedback loops;
  • administer and conduct evaluations; and
  • view, sort and export data for reporting and analytics.

These features save administrators countless hours on manual tasks and project management, allowing them to spend more time evaluating the success of their projects and workflows. Moreover, these features allow administrators to see which projects and contributors are out-performing the rest, helping them improve collaboration over time.

Business Problem Solving Solution Providers

Output is a leading provider of business problem solving and engagement software. Our platform is scalable, agile and optimized for both end-users and administrators. While some solution providers function as little more than an idea submission box or project management platform, Output provides tools to support the full lifecycle of innovation — from communicating objectives and organizing ideas, to process-driven workflows that bring your best ideas over the finish line.

Key Benefits of Output

  • create purpose-driven Challenges that organize employee discovery around your objectives and goals;
  • consolidate communication across your entire organization with clear feedback loops and streamlined collaboration;
  • advance ideas efficiently with repeatable workflows and clearly defined project lifecycles;
  • simplify administration with agile tools to organize and evaluate engagement; and
  • track engagement metrics and export data in a click.

Output Business Problem Solving Features

Output is designed to take your innovation to the next level by engaging employees across your entire organization in mission-driven discovery. Administrators can design Challenges that address high-value problems or opportunities, setting clear criteria for idea submissions with supporting tools such as images, videos, data sheets and more.

Output also ensures projects move forward efficiently by empowering administrators to manage end-user permissions, coordinate evaluations and set clear deadlines for each stage of the innovation process. Along the way, the platform enables administrators to view, organize and export idea submissions, manage engagement and improve their repeatable processes.

Perhaps most importantly, Output enables transparency and collaboration, allowing Challenge participants to work cross-functionally on submissions and gather clear feedback on why their ideas were selected to advance or not. Over time, Output helps your organization innovate smarter, providing the flexibility to improve your problem-solving workflows using historical data and analytics.

Infographic: How Output Helps You Grow

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See Output in Action

Output helps organizations of all types to drive better, more effective problem solving. Recently, we helped Entuitive, a leading engineering firm, transform their problem-solving process and uncover innovative solutions to business problems they may have otherwise missed.

In this case study, you'll learn how the platform helped Entuitive engage employees from across the organization in the problem-solving process, leading to data-backed, forward-thinking solutions.

Read the Case Study

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We'd love to help you transform your problem-solving process and start discovering better, more effective solutions to your business's biggest problems. Get in touch with our team to get started today!

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How to solve the most common small business problems

How to solve the most common small business problems

It can be exciting and intimidating to start and grow a small business . The challenges small businesses face can greatly impact their growth and success. Small business owners face so many obstacles, from managing cash flow to finding and retaining talent. It's easy to solve these common problems with the right strategy. 

In this blog post, we'll talk about the most common problems small businesses face and how to solve them. Entrepreneurs can navigate the ups and downs of entrepreneurship by understanding these challenges and implementing effective strategies.

The life cycle of a small business

Exploring the five stages of business growth.

Many small businesses go through a predictable life cycle as they grow and develop. Understanding these stages can help entrepreneurs navigate the challenges and opportunities that arise at each phase. Business owners can take proactive steps toward sustainable growth by knowing where their business stands and what lies ahead. Here are the five stages:

Stage 1: seed stage

During the seed stage, the business is just an idea or a concept. An entrepreneur focuses on market research, refining their business plan, and getting funding or investment. Future growth depends on this stage.

Here's when you validate your business concept, identify your customers, and develop your value proposition. Start-ups in the seed stage often face challenges such as limited resources, uncertainty, and the need for market validation.

Stage 2: start-up stage

The start-up stage is when the business is officially launched. An entrepreneur works to build a brand, get customers, and refine their product or service. This stage often involves high levels of uncertainty and requires continuous adaptation and learning.

Entrepreneurs take concrete steps to make their ideas a reality during this phase. They get funding, set up operations, and register as a legal entity. At this stage, startups have to manage cash flow, build a customer base, and set up efficient processes.

Stage 3: growth stage

In the growth stage, the business begins to experience increased demand and revenue. The focus shifts to scalability and expanding operations to meet customer needs. Managing rapid growth can bring challenges, like hiring and retaining skilled employees, and optimizing operations to accommodate the growing customer base. This stage requires careful financial management, effective marketing strategies, and the implementation of scalable systems.

Stage 4: expansion stage

During the expansion stage, the business seeks to penetrate new markets or diversify its product/service offering. This may involve expanding geographically, acquiring competitors , or launching new product lines. 

Expansion can bring opportunities, but it also comes with challenges, such as market saturation, increased competition, and strategic planning. This stage involves significant investment, strategic partnerships, and careful planning to ensure sustainable growth and profitability.

Stage 5: maturity stage

The maturity stage is characterized by a stable and profitable business. At this point, it's all about maintaining market share, optimizing operations, and exploring new ideas. Businesses need to adapt constantly to changing market conditions to stay successful.

In the mature stage, companies may face market obsolescence, declining growth rates, and the need to constantly innovate to stay relevant.

Small business owners can learn a lot from the stages of business growth. Entrepreneurs can take proactive steps toward long-term success by recognizing challenges and opportunities at every stage. Let’s dig deeper into the challenges small businesses face at each stage and provide practical solutions.

Common problems that small businesses face

Problem 1: lack of proper planning and strategy.

Small businesses often have problems with planning and strategy. It's hard for small businesses to navigate growth challenges without a roadmap and a plan. A small business owner needs a strategic vision that outlines their goals, objectives, and the steps to get there. A solid plan can help small businesses allocate resources, identify risks, and make informed decisions.

Problem 2: insufficient financial management

Small businesses often face issues related to financial management. You need to know your finances to grow your business. Cash flow problems, investment difficulties, and even failure can be caused by poor financial management. Keeping accurate financial records, monitoring cash flow, and forecasting properly are all things small business owners should focus on. Making informed financial decisions, securing funding when needed, and managing expenses can be done by small businesses who stay on top of their finances.

Problem 3: ineffective marketing and branding

It's hard for small businesses to stand out in today's market. Small businesses struggle with creating and implementing marketing strategies. The result can be low customer awareness, low sales, and difficulty reaching your target market. 

Small business owners need to understand their target market, identify their unique selling proposition, and craft a compelling brand message. Marketing tactics like social media, content marketing, and targeted advertising can help small businesses grow.

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Problem 4: difficulty in scaling operations

It's hard for small businesses to scale . Small businesses may find it hard to meet increased demand, deliver products or services efficiently, and keep customers happy as they grow. It's up to small business owners to develop scalable systems and processes to overcome this challenge. This can involve investing in technology and automation, streamlining operations, and strategically expanding their workforce. With scalable solutions, small businesses can manage growth, stay agile, and consistently deliver quality products and services.

Solutions to the common problems faced by small businesses

Solution 1: creating a comprehensive business plan.

To grow and succeed, small businesses need a good business plan. The plan outlines the company's goals, target market, and strategies for achieving profitability. Analyzing competitors and conducting market research can help business owners identify challenges and opportunities. The plan should also have a detailed budget and resource allocation. Ultimately, a comprehensive business plan helps you overcome potential roadblocks and gives your company a clear direction for growth.

Solution 2: implementing proper financial management practices

Mismanagement of finances is a big problem for small businesses. Insufficient cash flow, poor budgeting, and insufficient financial records can hurt growth. Business owners can gain better visibility into their financial health by implementing good financial management practices. A good cash flow management strategy includes minimizing expenses and maximizing revenue. Making informed decisions, seizing opportunities, and overcoming financial challenges are all possible with sound financial practices.

Solution 3: developing an effective marketing strategy

Branding and marketing are crucial for small businesses. Businesses can't reach their target audience and make sales without an effective marketing strategy. Develop a marketing plan for your small business by identifying your target market and understanding your customers. For maximum reach and influence, consider leveraging social media, email marketing, content marketing, and paid advertising. Implementing a well-planned marketing strategy can help businesses build brand awareness, attract new customers, and grow.

Solution 4: applying scalable systems and processes

Small businesses need scalable systems and processes to grow. Scalable systems can help businesses avoid operational inefficiencies, bottlenecks, and inconsistent processes. Business owners can handle increased demand more effectively if they implement scalable processes, such as automated workflows, standardized procedures, and efficient supply chain management. 

Scalable systems also allow businesses to adapt to changes and expand without sacrificing quality. Sustainable growth can be achieved by focusing on scalability.

Key takeaways and actionable steps for business growth

It's important to understand the challenges at each stage of the business life cycle to solve the most common problems facing small businesses . You can better prepare yourself for the hurdles ahead by recognizing the five stages of growth - seed stage, start-up stage, growth stage, expansion stage, and maturity stage.

The importance of addressing issues in small business for overall economic growth

The backbone of any economy is small businesses, which create jobs and innovate. Many of these businesses face challenges that limit their growth. Small businesses need support, resources, and mentorship programs from governments, institutions, and stakeholders to succeed.

Adopting a comprehensive approach to overcoming business challenges

It's crucial to adopt a comprehensive approach to running a successful small business to solve the most common problems. Creating a detailed business plan, implementing sound financial management practices, developing effective marketing strategies, implementing scalable systems and processes, and building a reliable team are all part of this process.

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How do Great Leaders Solve Problems in Business?

How-Great-Leaders-Solve-Problems

Category: Behavioral Economics .

Companies today are expected to adapt and respond quickly to challenges in a rapidly changing business environment. Notwithstanding sound planning and flawless strategy execution, businesses can still face problems. While they foresee some of those problems, others can pop up unexpectedly. These unforeseeable problems make it essential for businesses to be agile enough to respond to those challenges quickly and have excellent problem-solving skills to navigate them successfully. Problem-solving is an indispensable part of business management.

In this article, we will examine the following in detail

Introduction

  • Understanding the Importance of Problem-Solving in Business
  • Types of Business Problems
  • Challenges in Problem-solving
  • Skills Required for Effective Problem-solving in Business
  • A Step-by-step Process to Problem-solving in Business

TL;DR Version

Problem-solving is integral to business success, dealing with diverse issues ranging from operational hiccups to strategic challenges. Identifying and understanding these problems is vital, but navigating potential obstacles during problem-solving, such as cognitive biases, resource constraints, and lack of information, is crucial.

Effective problem-solving skills include research and analytical abilities, creativity, decision-making, communication , time management, and leadership. These skills allow business leaders to dissect complex issues, ideate innovative solutions, make informed decisions, communicate effectively, manage time, and lead teams toward resolution.

The problem-solving process involves defining the problem, understanding its root cause, collecting relevant information, brainstorming potential solutions, evaluating these solutions, choosing the best one, developing and implementing an action plan, monitoring progress, evaluating results, and reflecting on the process for continuous improvement. This iterative process ensures that businesses are resolving immediate issues and refining their problem-solving mechanism for future challenges.

Unmanaged and unmitigated problems can cause severe consequences to businesses. They can lead to project delays, missed deadlines, and financial losses. Moreover, they may negatively impact employee morale and customer satisfaction and even damage the reputation of the company. So businesses must have strong problem-solving abilities.

When businesses have strong problem-solving abilities, they can quickly and proactively rise to the occasion and address the problems, minimizing their impact, preventing them from escalating into bigger problems, and capitalizing on opportunities that arise from those challenges. Ultimately, the problem-solving ability of a company can help them gain a competitive advantage.

To solve problems and fix issues, companies require leaders who can handle complex issues with ease and guide and motivate their teams to identify problems and develop creative solutions to overcome them. They can leverage the collective expertise and experience of the employees to make well-informed decisions that align with the business goals and objectives. Leaders also work with employees to foster a culture of problem-solving to help the company build a resilient business that can thrive in today’s dynamic business environment.

What is Problem-Solving in Business?

Problem-solving involves identifying, analyzing, and resolving issues or challenges arising during various business operations to achieve the desired outcomes and business goals. It involves a systematic approach to defining the problem, gathering relevant information, generating possible solutions, evaluating them, and implementing the best course of action.

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we Cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. Albert Einstein

Why is Problem-Solving Important?

Problem-solving in business is important because of the following reasons.

1. Efficiency

Problems not only hinder progress but also reduce the efficiency of your operations by bringing everything to a halt/slowing you down, causing downtime, and costing you precious productivity. When left unchecked at the initial stages, these problems may also demand additional resources and budget to solve them, leading to cost overruns, losses, and inefficiency. So addressing the problems on time can help achieve efficiency.

2. Profitability

Profitability is one of the topmost priorities of an organization. So any impact on profitability is seen as a problem that requires immediate attention. Effective problem-solving helps businesses identify and address cost inefficiencies, optimize processes, and capitalize on new opportunities, thus improving the bottom line.

3. Leadership

Great leaders emerge during testing times. They can lead the employees, leverage collective effort and give a sense of direction toward finding solutions and workarounds. Problem-solving helps companies identify the right leaders.

4. Teamwork

Problem-solving requires team effort and participation. It calls for collaboration and communication between various departments, teams, and individuals. When companies manage to weather challenges and solve problems effectively, it brings the employees together to work towards a common cause, build stronger teams and create a habit of continuous improvement.

teamwork

5. Innovation

Problem-solving requires creativity and innovation to find solutions and workarounds. When a company fosters problem-solving culture, it automatically imbibes creative thinking and innovation. It gets reflected in developing new products, services, processes, and best practices.

6. Customer Satisfaction

Customer satisfaction helps businesses retain and find new customers. Problems with the products/services and customer support can lead to poor customer experience. Effective problem-solving helps businesses resolve customer complaints and issues quickly and satisfactorily, thus increasing customer loyalty and retention.

The Problems that Businesses Face Today and how they Solve Them

There are several different kinds of problems that businesses face, including

1. Strategic problems

Strategic problems are related to the long-term direction of a business. They typically involve decisions about resource allocation, product strategy, choosing the market, pricing strategy, product positioning, etc. Solving strategic problems requires a long-term vision, able leadership, and the ability to forecast market trends.

solution-concept

Business problem examples

Selecting the markets.

Businesses need to decide their focus on specific geographic markets, target customer segments, and product categories. They must make these decisions and select the focus areas by analyzing the data and insights into factors, including market size, competition, and the company’s core competencies.

Product development

Developing new products enables companies to remain relevant and achieve leadership in a highly competitive market scenario. They have to meet the customer requirements and provide a compelling reason for customers to purchase them. Solving the problem of new product development requires creativity and innovation and allocating resources for R&D. New products should be developed based on sound market analyses of customer requirements and pain points.

For instance, the need to learn and upskill anytime without compromising work hours pushed the companies to create e-learning platforms.

Positioning the company

Differentiating your business from the competition involves developing a strong brand identity, focusing on a specific niche or segment of the market, or offering unique value propositions. Setting the company apart by gaining a competitive advantage attracts customers. You can solve the problem of positioning your company by doing a SWOT analysis, finding your strengths and unique qualities that enable you to meet the customers’ requirements and address their pain points. You can base your brand identity, USP, and niche on your stand-out qualities that benefit customers. For instance, Volvo positions itself as the company that makes the safest cars in the world.

2. Operational problems

Operational problems are daily issues that hinder companies from efficiently delivering products or services to customers, affecting their ability to meet deadlines and targets. These problems arise from bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and system flaws. Addressing them involves identifying issues, providing employee training, upgrading technology, ensuring product testing and quality control, and implementing contingency planning, deadline management, and risk mitigation.

Operational-problems

Business problem-solving examples

Supply chain disruptions.

Supply chain disruptions happen when businesses face challenges in sourcing raw materials or components, leading to production delays or quality issues. For instance, during the pandemic, companies faced chip shortages, which led to losses and the inability to deliver products to customers on time. It also caused a rise in demand and an increase in prices.

Quality control issues

Quality control issues occur when design flaws or manufacturing issues impact the products. Businesses may need to identify and address quality issues to maintain customer satisfaction and loyalty. For instance, it is not uncommon to recall new automobile models, sometimes the ones from specific batches, to replace faulty components with redesigned parts before they might fail.

Managing staffing levels

Fluctuating staffing needs are part of operational issues. At any given time, if a company is understaffed, it can lead to operational inefficiency; if it is over-staffed, the company will suffer from cost infficiency. So, it requires careful planning. You can address the problem by either recruiting or downsizing and restructuring. For instance, the tech companies that designed software solutions for remote and hybrid work environments hired many employees during the pandemic. After the pandemic, when the need for these software solutions decreased, they had to downsize their workforce in light of the impending recession.

3. Financial problems

Financial problems are issues involving managing cash flow, revenue growth, and expenses. They are related to the financial health of a business. Businesses can fix them by managing costs effectively through process improvement and cost-cutting measures.

iterate_faster

Managing cash flow

Businesses must ensure that they have enough financial resources on hand to meet their obligations, such as payroll, vendor payments, logistics, managing retail channels, etc. For instance, many start-ups stall despite successful product development and prototyping, as they fail to secure adequate funding to bring the products to the market.

Identifying new revenue streams:

Businesses that focus on a particular niche are always vulnerable to competition and changing market conditions. They need to diversify their revenue streams to maintain growth and profitability. They may have to focus on research and product development to identify new revenue streams. For instance, some of the most successful and established DSLR camera manufacturers faced a major crisis when mirrorless cameras started eating into their market share. They had to revise the product strategy, downsize their manpower, and invest vast resources into developing competitive mirrorless systems to mitigate the company. On the contrary, DSLR manufacturers with diversified businesses remained more resilient.

Managing costs

Businesses must control expenses to maintain profitability. It may involve identifying areas where costs can be cut or negotiating better deals with vendors. For instance, Google is known to initiate moonshot projects. At the same time, they kill non-profitable projects quickly. It has helped the company retain leadership while managing costs judiciously.

4. Human resource problems

HR problems are issues related to recruiting, retaining, and developing talent. They are issues about the management of employees. Managing these problems requires assessing staffing needs, recruiting, restructuring, identifying training and upskilling needs, and retaining top talent through employee engagement initiatives, welfare measures, and career development opportunities.

Human-resource-problems

Retaining top talent

Retaining top talent can be a determining factor for the success of a company. Businesses must build an environment that attracts top talent by creating opportunities for career advancement and offering competitive compensation packages. For instance, highly specialized jobs with business-critical responsibilities, such as chief aero designers in motor racing teams, are hard to find and recruit. So retaining them is crucial for the success of the company.

Addressing employee morale and motivation issues

Lack of motivation, stagnant career, unfavorable team dynamics, etc., are some factors that cause a dip in employee morale. These factors can affect productivity and quality of work. Businesses must address these issues through employee engagement initiatives, career planning, team building, welfare measures, training, upskilling, etc.

Managing a diverse workforce

In an increasingly globalized work scenario, businesses must ensure that they create a work environment that is inclusive and welcoming to employees from different backgrounds and with diverse skill sets. They should also manage hybrid and remote work to address ambiguities and ensure clarity and synergy among teams and individuals based in various locations. For instance, many companies reserve certain positions for people of different racial/ethnic backgrounds or genders to meet their diversity goals. They also put policies and systems in place to prevent/address discrimination in the workplace.

Marketing problems

Marketing problems are related to promoting and selling a company’s products or services. Problems usually arise in understanding customer behavior and preferences and developing marketing strategies that appeal to those customers. Solving marketing problems requires revisiting the marketing strategy, understanding customer needs and behaviors by analyzing data, positioning the products more appealingly, and branding them better to reflect the strengths of the company and its product offerings.

Understanding customer needs and behavior

Customer needs to dictate the direction of product development and positioning. To design and deliver successful products, businesses must gain a deep understanding of customer needs, preferences, and pain points. For instance, the Japanese car makers capitalized on the high gas prices during the oil crisis and managed to capture the market in the US with their more efficient and reliable cars. The sudden loss in interest in the large, thirsty cars caused a considerable shift in the market, allowing Japanese car manufacturers to position their products in line with the customers’ preferences and succeed.

Developing a strong brand identity

Businesses must create a brand identity that resonates with the customers and sets them apart from competitors. For instance, it is common for companies to change their logo and brand identity in line with the changing trends, customer preferences, and product strategy.

Identifying new marketing channels and tactics

Businesses must be able to identify and adapt to changing customer preferences and identify new channels and tactics for reaching those customers. For instance, many retail businesses have adopted an eCommerce strategy to cater to mobile-savvy customers and to reach new markets.

Skills-Required-by-Business-Leaders

What Skills do Business Leaders Require for Effective Problem-Solving?

Following are some of the skills required for effective problem-solving in business.

1. Research and analytical skills

Problems have various potential implications. Trying to solve them straight away without doing proper research can cause further problems. Business leaders should study the problem to gain a deeper understanding, assess the solutions thoroughly, and test them before deploying them. They also need good analytical skills to review the performance metrics that indicate the problem areas and analyze information and data to understand the problem. Analytical skills help business leaders break down complex problems into smaller, more manageable parts, identify their root causes, avoid bounded rationality in decision making , and develop effective solutions and creative workarounds.

2. Creativity

When the problems are complex and multi-dimensional, they may require unique solutions that never existed before. Finding solutions for these problems requires creativity and a culture of innovation in the company. Business leaders must think creatively and tread unconventional paths to create innovative solutions. For instance, during the pandemic, when customers did not want to take the risk of going to retail stores to buy things but were reluctant to pay for the high shipping costs involved in e-commerce, retail businesses offered solutions such as BOPIS that let customers order online and collect their purchases safely from collection booth/kiosk at a convenient time. It helped them meet customer needs by offering the best of both worlds

3. Decision-making

Effective problem-solving in business requires sound decision-making skills. Problem-solving often involves making choices and tough decisions. For instance, the decision to axe a product line that has performed well in the past but has no future potential is a tough one to make. But retaining it will cost resources and yield decreasing returns. Great business leaders evaluate multiple options/solutions and make decisions in the company’s best interest. Being decisive or having decision clarity also means making the right decisions at the right time. Delays in decision-making can cause severe consequences even if you ultimately make the right decision. So business leaders must analyze everything and make the right decision when it matters the most.

4. Communication

Business leaders cannot single-handedly solve problems. Problem-solving requires a team effort. Good business leaders harness the potential of every employee with their communication skills and excellent coordination. They communicate effectively with colleagues, customers, and stakeholders to identify problems and develop solutions. For instance, in a crowded restaurant, the chef needs to coordinate the kitchen staff continuously, check if they are doing their part efficiently, control food quality, and make sure that food is served at the right table as quickly as possible. Lack of communication from the chef can escalate into a full-fledged nightmare, where customers keep waiting for their orders, kitchen staff make mistakes and deliver poor quality food, and the waiters get the flak for not serving food on time. Such situations can ruin the reputation of the restaurant and lead to the loss of customer trust. So good business leaders must communicate and build synergy among the individuals within and among other teams to get work done effectively.

5. Marketing problems

Marketing-problems

6. Leadership

Problem-solving is about working with many individuals and bringing the best out of them. So business leaders need great leadership qualities to motivate and inspire their teams to work together and solve problems. For example, innovations come from the R&D department; they get incorporated into products by the product development team, and the products are positioned and promoted in the market by the marketing team. Great business leaders lead product development and deployment by coordinating with all these teams, getting their insights, considering their views, and making important decisions regarding product strategy, product positioning, and branding. Situational Leadership is essential to deal with shifting priorities. Leaders motivate the teams and guide them in the right direction. Without good leadership, a company cannot solve problems effectively.

A Step-by-Step Process to Problem-Solving in Business

Problem-solving in business is often an iterative process. So the steps involved may need to be repeated or revised as new information becomes available. Problem-solving usually involves the following steps:

  • Define the problem; include any present symptoms or effects.
  • Understand the root cause of the problem and find out how it impacts the business.
  • Collect all the necessary information related to the problem by analyzing data, conducting interviews, researching, and seeking input from others.
  • Brainstorm with the stakeholders and generate potential solutions to the problem. Encourage open communication, collaboration, and participation among team members.
  • Weigh the pros and cons, evaluate all the potential solutions, analyze the risks, and consider the feasibility of each.
  • Choose the best solution from the evaluated solutions and consider how it will impact the stakeholders, including customers, employees, suppliers, and shareholders.
  • Develop an action plan to implement the chosen solution, detailing specific steps, timelines, and responsibilities.
  • Implement the solution, monitor progress closely, adjust the plan, make changes as required, and communicate those changes to the stakeholders.
  • Evaluate the results, determine if the solution addressed the problem, assess its effectiveness, and identify any areas for improvement.
  • Reflect on the problem-solving process, and identify and document the lessons learned.
  • Consider how you can improve the process for future problem-solving efforts.

10 Steps-Guide-to-Business-Problem-Solving

Problem Solving Key Takeaways

Problem-solving is a critical skill for business success. It involves identifying, understanding, and resolving issues in various facets of business operations and strategy. Common obstacles during problem-solving can include cognitive biases, resource constraints, and lack of information. Business leaders must navigate these potential pitfalls to ensure effective resolution of issues.

Essential skills for effective problem-solving include research and analytical abilities, creativity, decision-making, communication, time management, and leadership. These skills enable business leaders to dissect complex issues, devise innovative solutions, make informed decisions, effectively communicate, manage time, and guide teams toward resolution.

Problem-solving is an iterative process that involves multiple stages, from defining the problem and understanding its root cause to brainstorming and evaluating potential solutions, choosing the best one, and developing and implementing an action plan. This process also includes monitoring progress, evaluating results, and reflecting on the process for continuous improvement. An effective problem-solving method is the root cause analysis method. Ultimately, successful problem-solving in business is not just about resolving immediate issues but also about refining and improving the problem-solving process to tackle future challenges more effectively.

Problem Solving in Business FAQs

Answer: The four types of problem-solving strategies typically include:

Trial and Error: Involves trying different solutions until the problem is solved. It’s often used when there are limited possibilities that can be explored quickly.

Algorithm: A step-by-step procedure that, if followed correctly, will always lead to the solution of the problem. It is highly logical and often used in mathematical problems.

Heuristic: A general problem-solving strategy that involves using rules-of-thumb or shortcuts. Heuristics may not always yield the perfect solution but can often lead to a satisfactory one in a reasonable time frame.

Insight: Sometimes also referred to as creative problem-solving. It involves sudden realization, a flash of inspiration, or an ‘Aha!’ moment that provides a solution.

  • What is an example of problem-solving in business?

Answer: A common example of problem-solving in business is addressing a sudden drop in sales. The problem-solving process would begin with identifying and defining the problem (drop in sales). The next step would involve researching and analyzing the issue to understand its root cause, such as market conditions, competition, or internal factors. Brainstorming for potential solutions could include improving the product, adjusting pricing, or enhancing marketing efforts. After evaluating and selecting the best solution, an action plan would be developed and implemented. Progress would be monitored, results evaluated, and the process reflected upon for future problem-solving efforts.

  • Why is problem-solving important in business?

Answer: Problem-solving is vital in business as it enables organizations to navigate challenges and obstacles that could hamper their growth and success. It allows businesses to identify issues, understand their implications, and devise effective solutions. This process not only resolves the immediate issue at hand but also helps prevent similar problems in the future. Moreover, effective problem-solving can lead to improved business processes, innovation, and a competitive advantage. It also plays a crucial role in customer satisfaction, profitability, and overall sustainability of the business.

  • What is the most important problem-solving tool for business?

Answer: There isn’t a one-size-fits-all problem-solving tool for all businesses, as the most effective tool often depends on the specific problem and the business context. However, one universally important tool is effective communication. Clear, open, and honest communication fosters better understanding of problems, facilitates brainstorming of solutions, and aids in the implementation of action plans. Other essential tools include data analysis tools (for understanding and diagnosing problems), brainstorming techniques (for generating solutions), and project management tools (for implementing solutions).

Great leaders possess a unique problem-solving mindset that enables them to navigate complex challenges in the business world. By following this step-by-step guide, you can cultivate these essential skills and unlock your potential for success. Remember, problem-solving is not just about finding solutions but also about fostering a culture of innovation, collaboration, and continuous improvement. Embrace the challenges, seize the opportunities, and lead confidently as you embark on your journey towards becoming an exceptional problem solver and a remarkable leader in the business realm.

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Why Problem-Solving Skills Are Essential for Leaders in Any Industry

Business man leading team in problem-solving exercise with white board

  • 17 Jan 2023

Any organization offering a product or service is in the business of solving problems.

Whether providing medical care to address health issues or quick convenience to those hungry for dinner, a business’s purpose is to satisfy customer needs .

In addition to solving customers’ problems, you’ll undoubtedly encounter challenges within your organization as it evolves to meet customer needs. You’re likely to experience growing pains in the form of missed targets, unattained goals, and team disagreements.

Yet, the ubiquity of problems doesn’t have to be discouraging; with the right frameworks and tools, you can build the skills to solve consumers' and your organization’s most challenging issues.

Here’s a primer on problem-solving in business, why it’s important, the skills you need, and how to build them.

Access your free e-book today.

What Is Problem-Solving in Business?

Problem-solving is the process of systematically removing barriers that prevent you or others from reaching goals.

Your business removes obstacles in customers’ lives through its products or services, just as you can remove obstacles that keep your team from achieving business goals.

Design Thinking

Design thinking , as described by Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar in the online course Design Thinking and Innovation , is a human-centered , solutions-based approach to problem-solving and innovation. Originally created for product design, design thinking’s use case has evolved . It’s now used to solve internal business problems, too.

The design thinking process has four stages :

4 Stages of Design Thinking

  • Clarify: Clarify a problem through research and feedback from those impacted.
  • Ideate: Armed with new insights, generate as many solutions as possible.
  • Develop: Combine and cull your ideas into a short list of viable, feasible, and desirable options before building prototypes (if making physical products) and creating a plan of action (if solving an intangible problem).
  • Implement: Execute the strongest idea, ensuring clear communication with all stakeholders about its potential value and deliberate reasoning.

Using this framework, you can generate innovative ideas that wouldn’t have surfaced otherwise.

Creative Problem-Solving

Another, less structured approach to challenges is creative problem-solving , which employs a series of exercises to explore open-ended solutions and develop new perspectives. This is especially useful when a problem’s root cause has yet to be defined.

You can use creative problem-solving tools in design thinking’s “ideate” stage, which include:

  • Brainstorming: Instruct everyone to develop as many ideas as possible in an allotted time frame without passing judgment.
  • Divergent thinking exercises: Rather than arriving at the same conclusion (convergent thinking), instruct everyone to come up with a unique idea for a given prompt (divergent thinking). This type of exercise helps avoid the tendency to agree with others’ ideas without considering alternatives.
  • Alternate worlds: Ask your team to consider how various personas would manage the problem. For instance, how would a pilot approach it? What about a young child? What about a seasoned engineer?

It can be tempting to fall back on how problems have been solved before, especially if they worked well. However, if you’re striving for innovation, relying on existing systems can stunt your company’s growth.

Related: How to Be a More Creative Problem-Solver at Work: 8 Tips

Why Is Problem-Solving Important for Leaders?

While obstacles’ specifics vary between industries, strong problem-solving skills are crucial for leaders in any field.

Whether building a new product or dealing with internal issues, you’re bound to come up against challenges. Having frameworks and tools at your disposal when they arise can turn issues into opportunities.

As a leader, it’s rarely your responsibility to solve a problem single-handedly, so it’s crucial to know how to empower employees to work together to find the best solution.

Your job is to guide them through each step of the framework and set the parameters and prompts within which they can be creative. Then, you can develop a list of ideas together, test the best ones, and implement the chosen solution.

Related: 5 Design Thinking Skills for Business Professionals

4 Problem-Solving Skills All Leaders Need

1. problem framing.

One key skill for any leader is framing problems in a way that makes sense for their organization. Problem framing is defined in Design Thinking and Innovation as determining the scope, context, and perspective of the problem you’re trying to solve.

“Before you begin to generate solutions for your problem, you must always think hard about how you’re going to frame that problem,” Datar says in the course.

For instance, imagine you work for a company that sells children’s sneakers, and sales have plummeted. When framing the problem, consider:

  • What is the children’s sneaker market like right now?
  • Should we improve the quality of our sneakers?
  • Should we assess all children’s footwear?
  • Is this a marketing issue for children’s sneakers specifically?
  • Is this a bigger issue that impacts how we should market or produce all footwear?

While there’s no one right way to frame a problem, how you do can impact the solutions you generate. It’s imperative to accurately frame problems to align with organizational priorities and ensure your team generates useful ideas for your firm.

To solve a problem, you need to empathize with those impacted by it. Empathy is the ability to understand others’ emotions and experiences. While many believe empathy is a fixed trait, it’s a skill you can strengthen through practice.

When confronted with a problem, consider whom it impacts. Returning to the children’s sneaker example, think of who’s affected:

  • Your organization’s employees, because sales are down
  • The customers who typically buy your sneakers
  • The children who typically wear your sneakers

Empathy is required to get to the problem’s root and consider each group’s perspective. Assuming someone’s perspective often isn’t accurate, so the best way to get that information is by collecting user feedback.

For instance, if you asked customers who typically buy your children’s sneakers why they’ve stopped, they could say, “A new brand of children’s sneakers came onto the market that have soles with more traction. I want my child to be as safe as possible, so I bought those instead.”

When someone shares their feelings and experiences, you have an opportunity to empathize with them. This can yield solutions to their problem that directly address its root and shows you care. In this case, you may design a new line of children’s sneakers with extremely grippy soles for added safety, knowing that’s what your customers care most about.

Related: 3 Effective Methods for Assessing Customer Needs

3. Breaking Cognitive Fixedness

Cognitive fixedness is a state of mind in which you examine situations through the lens of past experiences. This locks you into one mindset rather than allowing you to consider alternative possibilities.

For instance, your cognitive fixedness may make you think rubber is the only material for sneaker treads. What else could you use? Is there a grippier alternative you haven’t considered?

Problem-solving is all about overcoming cognitive fixedness. You not only need to foster this skill in yourself but among your team.

4. Creating a Psychologically Safe Environment

As a leader, it’s your job to create an environment conducive to problem-solving. In a psychologically safe environment, all team members feel comfortable bringing ideas to the table, which are likely influenced by their personal opinions and experiences.

If employees are penalized for “bad” ideas or chastised for questioning long-held procedures and systems, innovation has no place to take root.

By employing the design thinking framework and creative problem-solving exercises, you can foster a setting in which your team feels comfortable sharing ideas and new, innovative solutions can grow.

Design Thinking and Innovation | Uncover creative solutions to your business problems | Learn More

How to Build Problem-Solving Skills

The most obvious answer to how to build your problem-solving skills is perhaps the most intimidating: You must practice.

Again and again, you’ll encounter challenges, use creative problem-solving tools and design thinking frameworks, and assess results to learn what to do differently next time.

While most of your practice will occur within your organization, you can learn in a lower-stakes setting by taking an online course, such as Design Thinking and Innovation . Datar guides you through each tool and framework, presenting real-world business examples to help you envision how you would approach the same types of problems in your organization.

Are you interested in uncovering innovative solutions for your organization’s business problems? Explore Design Thinking and Innovation —one of our online entrepreneurship and innovation courses —to learn how to leverage proven frameworks and tools to solve challenges. Not sure which course is right for you? Download our free flowchart .

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Problem-Solving in Business: SKILLS AND QUALIFICATIONS NEEDED IN PROBLEM-SOLVING

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Home » Business Cycle » Common business problems

Overcome your business problems

Your business is chugging along delivering its products and services and then BAM! You hit a brick wall. Whether it’s an employee matter, a delivery problem, or a logistics issue, the impact spreads across the rest of your business. Sound familiar? You’re not alone. If you’re running a small company or startup, you’ve probably faced a range of common business problems – and if you haven’t, you most likely will soon. Solving business challenges requires preparation, early identification and a plan to address any issues.

Discover your strengths as a business owner – and crush your problems

Identifying common business problems

Determining your company’s issues helps to break your business challenges into two sections: surface-level business problems (easy fixes) and core business problems (more intensive solutions).

Surface-level business problems

Surface-level problems in business typically affect day-to-day business management and manifest as employee or customer dissatisfaction. These issues can also occur naturally in the market. Examples of common business problems in this category include:

High employee turnover rate

Increase in competition

Falling sales or lack of growth

Supply chain issues

Poor financial management

Low customer loyalty

Core business problems

These arise when we dig deeper into the reasons behind surface-level issues, which – at first glance – seem easier to fix. However, they’re both related, and to fix surface-level problems permanently, you must get to the core of what’s really holding your company back.

Tony tells us, “Success is 80% psychology and 20% mechanics,” which means failure is also about your psychology . Overcoming common business problems will take more than putting up an ad or increasing your marketing budget – dig deeper, take action, and amazing things will happen.

The 9 most common business problems

Every business experiences problems, regardless of your industry, business size or the phase of your business cycle. If your business is stagnant, you feel stuck, or you’re not experiencing the growth you desire, determine if you’re experiencing one of these common business problems.

1. Finding your purpose

Does your company feel adrift? Do you change your mission statement constantly? If so, you’re experiencing a lack of purpose, one of the most common problems in business. After all, how can you expect to create raving fan employees if you don’t wake up every morning excited for the day ahead? In addition, a lack of purpose can create employee retention problems .

Being a strong leader is synonymous with having a sense of purpose , and a genuine belief in personal success will help your business thrive. Your purpose gives you passion, drive, certainty, and the ability to overcome towering obstacles. A business is only as strong as the psychology of its leader – it’s up to you to do the work and bring purpose to your company.

2. Developing your brand identity

Developing your brand identity is vital to marketing and sales success, and struggling to establish an identity is one of the biggest business problems you’ll experience during the growth stage. Your identity epitomizes your company’s core values , mission and goals and profoundly affects company culture, impacting your ability to hire and retain the best employees.

Your brand identity drives the emotional connection with your consumer and ultimately creates customer loyalty . With a strong brand identity, you know who you are and your direction. Without it, you’ll be lost in the dark and struggle to inspire raving fan customers .

3. Providing value

Shrinking profits is a common business problem that can sometimes lead to bankruptcy. It’s easy to blame the market, but there’s always a reason for significant market shifts. If customers are flocking to competitors, then take note – you probably lack specific services or features they deem valuable.

To be successful in business, you must practice constant strategic innovation . Determine your X-factor – what sets you apart from the competition? How do you bring more value to your customers? What makes your company different ? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, it’s time to sit down and think about them.

4. Planning ahead

Purpose and identity are crucial to your success, but also remember to make a massive action plan (MAP), which allows you to stay agile in response to business challenges while keeping your eye on the prize. For example, most business owners aren’t prepared for a recession even though the economy is in recession 60% of the time. It’s easy to feel confident during good times, but it’s the hardships that matter.

A MAP outlines how your business will survive an income downturn, irrespective of whether it’s caused by a recession or the shifting valuation of your product or service. If your business isn’t built to weather the storms, it’ll be dead in the water. Get prepared for a recession and other adverse economic possibilities before they happen.

5. Creating an exit strategy

No one wants to think about the collapse of their business, which is why so few owners bother with developing an exit strategy . However, in many cases, leaving the business at some point is the ultimate goal, whether through a leveraged buyout , passing the business onto your children, or selling to key employees. Knowing your preferred endgame will help you develop the best path to get there.

Forty-five percent of business owners spend over 40 hours weekly in the office and never find a way to extricate themselves. Does that sound like you? If so, it’s time to start working on your exit strategy.

common business problems

6. Controlling your fear

New business owners often allow the fear of uncertainty to affect how they run their organizations. Fear of failure, not being a good enough leader, and fear of the economy’s future can create a scarcity mindset and negatively affect decisions and behaviors. Hyper-focusing on these things will set your business up for failure and reduce the chances of achieving success.

If you have these limiting beliefs , it’s time to change them to empowering beliefs that can help you thrive as a leader. Use fear to push your business to greater heights . Decide that success will happen no matter what, and many business problems will resolve themselves along the way.

7. Harnessing the power of technology

New entrepreneurs often have an old-school mindset and make the mistake of thinking they don’t need technology. Others believe they’re in a business that doesn’t need technology to succeed. In today’s economy, it’s essential to harness the power of technology to avoid being disrupted by competitors.

From artificial intelligence to automation, emerging tech has a place in every business. Address these common business problems with strategic innovation team meetings to discuss incorporating new technology into your business to beat your competition .

8. Developing your skills

While it’s crucial to shift your mindset, control your emotions and be decisive in business, it’s also important to take a realistic look at your strengths and weaknesses. To be successful, business owners need skills like reading financial statements , hiring the right employees and scaling mindfully .

Your psychology and skillset are the foundation you’ll build for the rest of your business. You can’t build a sturdy structure without sealing the cracks and strengthening the base. You can personally develop these skills or outsource them to focus on other aspects of the business. Being honest about current and future challenges allows you to scale your business sustainably.

9. Asking for help

When entrepreneurs lack specific skills, the inability to reach out to available resources is one of their biggest problems in business. Being a great leader means using everything at your disposal to get the job done. Resourcefulness is one of a leader’s top traits . When it comes to business, the best leaders leverage what they have to fill in the gaps.

Stop convincing yourself that “strong leaders don’t ask for support,” and you’ll find that business help is out there. Sign up for a free CEO Strategy Session and discover new strategies to supercharge your success. You’ll find resources to solve your current business problems and create a blueprint for lasting organizational change .

Examples of companies experiencing problems

Even the most prominent businesses were scrappy startups at the beginning. Irrespective of industry, you’ll experience the same universal challenges businesses worldwide face. How you view these business problems is critical: Are they obstacles or opportunities for growth ?

Apple overcame numerous business challenges – and near bankruptcy – before becoming a force of nature, and they didn’t do it by thinking small. When sales were down, Apple turned to marketing and innovation to solve problems, which led to the creation of the society-changing iPhone.

Starbucks is another household name that triumphed over business problems. During the 2008 recession, the earnings of this billion-dollar coffee chain dropped by more than 50%. In response, the company brought back CEO Howard Schultz, who showed exemplary crisis leadership . Schultz examined Starbucks’ practices and concluded they were in the customer business, not the coffee business. He put the focus back on customers and dragged the company back from the brink of failure.

Remember, business problems are just opportunities in disguise. It’s time to stop living in fear and start building the skills and mindset you need to overcome any challenge .

Ready to crush your business problems?

Discover how to defeat common business problems with Tony Robbins’ free 7 Forces of Business Mastery content series.

© 2024 Robbins Research International, Inc. All rights reserved.

More From Forbes

How technology can help solve (my) business problems.

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There is an incredible similarity between the business challenges of a Sumerian potter and a modern-day business owner. Decades separate the two, but the same problems keep them up at night. Both need to create a unique product they can sell, or, if it is a standard product, find a way to trade it in large quantities in an efficient way. Differentiation of offerings, personalization of experiences, utilization of resources, optimization of processes.., these have been, are, and will be the challenges of businesses over time and geography.

However, as businesses become more complex to run, better tools are needed to meet these challenges, and this is where technology comes in.  

The “Tech And Business” Ongoing Dialogue 

Back in the late 1700s, the flavor of the day was delicately decorated pottery dishes. Making such dishes required skilled artisans, which stood in the way of scalability.  Josiah Wedgewood, the famous British industrialist, and entrepreneur (he founded the Wedgwood pottery in 1759!) leveraged the tech of the day to make molds and manufacture what seemed to be hand crafted pottery in a streamlined and industrial way. Technology, we quickly learned, is a business differentiator . Fast forward to today, technology is the enabler of businesses, and in many cases, tech is the business itself. For example, cloud computing provided by Amazon AWS helps companies store and analyze data as well as host websites, and is a foundational building block for many businesses worldwide. Tech can also be a revenue generator in its own right: for example, AWS is a major revenue generator for Amazon. 

To this end, there is a lively ongoing dialogue between business problems and technology. Business problems at a high level, have not changed. They have been and will be about differentiated products and the ability to scale. What is changing is how we resolve these challenges, and here tech plays a major role. Hence the valid question every business owner and decision-maker must ask themselves: How can technology help me solve my business problems? How can it make my business better?

Finley decorated art, in an industrial way. Tech was, is and will be a business differentiator

The Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894

Take as an example the combustion engine. Most of us own one (under the hood of our car), and given the pace tech is moving at, we may not even consider it to be a "technology." However, at some point in time, combustion engines were the height of technology. Considering the alternative of using human muscles, animals, or steam engines, the attraction of combustion engines is evident. If we were entrepreneurs in the mechanical age and we encountered a combustion engine for the first time, we should have asked ourselves the four following questions:

The Walking Dead The Ones Who Live Season Finale Review Super Easy Barely An Inconvenience

The russians sent a platoon of grenade hurling robotic mini tanks into battle the ukrainians blew up the bots in the usual way with drones, total solar eclipse emoji map meme tells you all you need to know.

  • What technologies are available today? Is a combustion engine a better technology?
  • What can this new technology do?
  • What business problems am I facing?
  • Can this tech help me solve these business problems?

1. What technologies are available?   The importance of this question is not just to identify which technologies are at play, but what is their level of market readiness. At the time combustion engines erupted, the alternatives were animal power, steam, electric motors, or petrol engines. Petrol won at the end of the day due to market readiness, value, and an active and supportive lobby.  The tech was ready, willing, and available.  The question was, what can you do with this technology?

2. To be able and solve business problems with tech, we need to know what these technologies can do . In the case of the combustion engine example, it can convert energy to linear and radial motion. Is this exciting? Only when it meets business problems...  

3. Which business problems am I facing? Finally, let's get to the business problem of horse manure. At the time, large cities had a big horse problem. As the population grew, so did the number of horses to haul people and freight. The amount of horse manure rose accordingly, to the point that there was a risk that cities could not afford to grow any larger, or they will be covered by a certain horse by-product. This was knows as “ The Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894 .” A cleaner solution was needed. Today we know better, but over time, combustion engines became that "cleaner choice." The entrepreneur of the day thought: “If I have a power unit that can convert energy to linear and radial motion, I could, for example, get rid of the horse and replace it with an engine.” Brilliant . 

4. Can these capabilities solve my business problems? In a world of new automation and industrialization, engines could solve many business problems: The answer to the question of "how do we move people around in a clean way" is the "motor." To the question of how we move goods where there are no railroads, trucks were the answer. And the list goes on. For the entrepreneur or business owner of the day, answering the above four questions was the path for identifying how the available tech of the day could help solve teh business problems of the day. 

But there is an additional layer here - the dialogue between tech and business . When tech revolves around mechanical development (engines, machines, etc.), business problems tend to revolve or define themselves around similar capabilities. A combustion engine could not solve math problems, but it could power things. Business questions started spinning around power, and mechanics, efficiencies and automation. Tech defined the types of questions businesses of the day asked.  And it still does so today.

Surley, there has got to be a better way

To make the four mentioned questions clearer, let's take a more recent example: the age of mobile and web connectivity. Imagine that you are an entrepreneur somewhere around 2009:

  • What technologies are available? mobile, web, internet, connectivity
  • What can these technologies do? Connect users, share information on the go, connect users to services, enable mobility...
  • What business problems exist? The business world does not live in a vacuum. As soon as "web and mobile" became available, related business frictions emerged: how do I connect my users? How do I sell online? How do I keep productive on the go? Very different questions to "how do I move goods in a more efficient way?"
  • Can these capabilities solve my business problems? When we understand the tech capabilities, as well as business problems, innovating is not such a big challenge. Considering tech capabilities and pressure testing them against business problems is a fruitful way to innovate. And the answers follow: mobile applications, online stores, app utilities and the like.

New technologies impact how businesses define their problems and objectives

“Today” Is Complicated

The answer to the question "How technology can help solve business problems" today is more complicated than in previous times. The reason is that technology is also becoming more complicated. Considering the last decade of innovation: when we said "digital," we essentially meant "web and mobile." Today digital means IoT, AI, Decentralization, AR/VR/MR, and a host of other technologies. 

Just to answer our first question of "what technologies are available", more time is needed. Double click on AI, and it immediately expands into different tech capabilities such as Natural Language Processing, Computer Vision, Fraud Detection, and the list goes on and on. The same applies to IoT and the rest of the culprits. Similarly, to understand what these technologies can do also requires in-depth knowledge. The data scientist you've just hired to work on Computer Vision problems is not the same person who can answer questions regarding Natural Language Processing. The days of the one-stop-shop full-stack engineer who can solve all are coming to an end. And if these are tough questions for your engineers, imagine your product managers or salespeople. Without an understanding of what technologies are available and what these technologies can do - how can they help solve your clients' business problems or find new opportunities?

So once again, in the words of Bob Dylan, "the times they are a changin’." With them, we need to expand our knowledge and understanding of technology. We need to understand which technologies are available. We need to educate ourselves on what these technologies can do. In parallel, we need to define our business problems and objectives - with an eye on those new and emerging technologies . And last, we need to discover how these new tech capabilities can help us solve business problems.

But Why Should I Care?

You could, in theory, continue and deliver your business value with yesterday's tech. Why should you care about the above four questions? For two reasons, and two reasons only:

  • With new tech, we can revisit every problem already solved in the world, and check if we can provide a better answer . A better way to utilize, optimize, personalize, and other typical business objectives. In most cases, the answer is yes. New technologies, new capabilities, better solutions. 
  • Every business, industry, and end-user has those nagging problems that could not be solved - because the tech was not available. Can we now solve these problems with new tech capabilities?

If the answer to 1 or 2 above is "yes" then you have found the answer to the question "How technology can help solve (my) business problems".  You may also found a way to generate new business value for yourself and your clients.

Hod Fleishman

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25% of Gen Zers say they'll need a therapist to deal with tax filing stress—here's the first step to take to make it easier

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Taxes aren't enjoyable for people of any age, but they can be particularly stressful for younger generations, many of whom may have never filed before. 

In fact, 1 in 4 Gen Z taxpayers said they'll need a therapist to deal with the stress of tax-filing season, according to a recent Cash App Taxes survey. Additionally, 54% said filing taxes has either brought them to tears in the past or expect it to this year.

Richard Pianoforte, managing director of tax at Fiduciary Trust International, is surprised that number isn't higher. 

"I have children in that age group…and I don't think they're prepared for it, school doesn't prepare them for it, and it's totally understandable," he says.

As part of its National Financial Literacy Month efforts, CNBC will be featuring stories throughout the month dedicated to helping people manage, grow and protect their money so they can truly live ambitiously.

  • I'm a certified financial planner and tax reporter at CNBC. How I tackle my own retirement tax planning
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  • Op-ed: I'm an advisor who helps clients navigate layoffs. Here's my best advice to prepare

Even figuring out which documents you need to file can be anxiety-inducing, with 62% of first-time filers saying they aren't sure where to get their W-2s or 1099s. 

"Make sure you know what [documents] you have," Pianoforte says. "I think that's the biggest issue when you ask younger folks, 'Did you get a 1099 from your bank?' Sometimes they don't even know what a 1099 is."

Gen Z's tax document checklist

To take the stress out of taxes, young filers should start by making a list of necessary documents to form their own guide, which can be used this year and in the future, says Pianoforte.

Read on to learn the main documents you'll need and where to find them. 

1. Form W-2 

The first form you'll want to collect is your W-2, or Wage and Tax Statement . You will receive a W-2 form from your employer if you worked for a paycheck or earned at least $600 in 2023. This form reports the income your employer paid you as well as how much it withheld in taxes.

Employers are required by the Internal Revenue Service to mail out W-2s by Jan. 31, but if you don't have a paper copy of the form, don't worry — some employers also make W-2s available online via your HR department or payroll processor, says Pianoforte.

If you still don't have a W-2 from your employer, contact them to make sure they have the right address on file.

People who worked as freelancers or independent contractors last year will receive a 1099-NEC form from their employer instead of a W-2 to report income. 

2. Form 1099-INT

Thanks to high interest rates in 2023, you might have received a 1099-INT form from your bank if you earned $10 or more in interest on your savings account.

Look out for this even if you haven't received one before. "In prior years, it could have been under $10, so they didn't get that form," Pianoforte says.

You can find the 1099-INT form by logging into your bank account and following directions to tax documents. Other interest-earning products, like investment accounts, will also have a 1099-INT form.

3. Form 1099-MISC or other crypto documents

Roughly 55% of Gen Z investors currently invest in cryptocurrency — and it's their responsibility to report any crypto earnings to the government when filing taxes. 

"People still think that crypto is kind of invisible to regulators," Shehan Chandrasekera, a certified public accountant, told CNBC Make It . "Truthfully, there are so many ways the IRS knows you've had something to do with crypto."

Centralized exchanges like Coinbase should send you a 1099-MISC form if you earned $600 or more last year. But even if you don't get a form from your exchange, "that doesn't mean you don't need to report it," says Pianoforte. 

Keeping track of your crypto transactions can be difficult, but tax software tools like CoinTracker or Koinly can help generate the necessary tax forms when filing, Douglas Boneparth, certified financial planner and president of Bone Fide Wealth, told CNBC Make It .

The IRS's frequently asked questions on crypto transactions is also helpful for answering more detailed questions about how to report crypto on your taxes.

4. Form 1098-T

If you're paying college tuition, a 1098-T form will help determine which education-related tax credits you're eligible for. This form is usually found through your school directly, says Pianoforte. 

It's important to note that your 1098-T doesn't include student loans. If you paid $600 or more in student loan interest, you should have received a 1098-E , which can be found through your loan servicer.

Other resources for young filers

Almost half of the members of Gen Z surveyed by Cash App Taxes were unsure of the tax deadline. You'll want to file your federal individual income tax return by April 15 , also known as Tax Day. 

Luckily, there are many resources online to help young filers navigate tax season. Pianoforte recommends checking out the IRS website, which has an Interactive Tax Assistant tool that can address questions specific to your individual tax circumstances, as well as an extensive FAQ page .

"I would start there," he says. "[The IRS site] is a great resource, and it has gotten much better throughout the years."

Want to make extra money outside of your day job?  Sign up for  CNBC's new online course How to Earn Passive Income Online  to learn about common passive income streams, tips to get started and real-life success stories. Register today and save 50% with discount code EARLYBIRD.

Plus,  sign up for CNBC Make It's newsletter  to get tips and tricks for success at work, with money and in life.

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Computer Science > Machine Learning

Title: self-improved learning for scalable neural combinatorial optimization.

Abstract: The end-to-end neural combinatorial optimization (NCO) method shows promising performance in solving complex combinatorial optimization problems without the need for expert design. However, existing methods struggle with large-scale problems, hindering their practical applicability. To overcome this limitation, this work proposes a novel Self-Improved Learning (SIL) method for better scalability of neural combinatorial optimization. Specifically, we develop an efficient self-improved mechanism that enables direct model training on large-scale problem instances without any labeled data. Powered by an innovative local reconstruction approach, this method can iteratively generate better solutions by itself as pseudo-labels to guide efficient model training. In addition, we design a linear complexity attention mechanism for the model to efficiently handle large-scale combinatorial problem instances with low computation overhead. Comprehensive experiments on the Travelling Salesman Problem (TSP) and the Capacitated Vehicle Routing Problem (CVRP) with up to 100K nodes in both uniform and real-world distributions demonstrate the superior scalability of our method.

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    2. Know where you are. The next step is to get real: be honest about where your business is currently. Look at your financial statements. Survey your employees to get an idea of business problems to solve on the front lines. Ask your colleagues and others in your industry where they are so that you can compare.

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