Every business leader I know has noticed that the problems we face today are becoming more complex, multifaceted, and our customers are more demanding. Everyone wants to know how to be a better and more timely problem solver, as well as a more creative solution provider. The challenges for every business are now more global and multi-cultural than ever.
We all envy the few leaders who, like Jeff Bezos and Sir Richard Branson, have achieved so much business success, who often seem to get it right while the rest of us struggle to make do with our own little domains. .
In my consulting practice, I seem to struggle the most with those of you who are perfectionists, so I found guidance in a new book, “The Imperfections: Strategic Mindsets for Uncertain Times,” by Robert McLean and Charles Conn. Pleased with These authors speak from a wealth of experience as investors, entrepreneurs and environmentalists.
I particularly agree with his characterization of six mindsets that facilitate effective problem solving under today’s uncertainty and time constraints. I’ll summarize them here, adding insight from my own experience in business:
Great questions generate the best insights. The best business leaders are always curious about every element of every problem. You as a leader must be able to suspend your natural pattern recognition impulses long enough to see emerging challenges in a new light. Asking the right questions reduces uncertainty and yields new answers.
Of course, if you want to learn from the questions you have to stop talking and start really listening. It also means that you have to suspend your prejudices, forget your leading questions, and follow up as necessary to confirm what you’ve heard.
Look at the problem through multiple lenses. By changing your lens or widening the aperture, you can identify threats and opportunities beyond the confines of conventional vision. Plus, you can zoom in and zoom out to make sure you’re seeing the real structure of the problem, rather than trying to impose an outdated solution or just addressing a surface.
In trade, this approach is sometimes called the “dragonfly eye”, referring to the fact that dragonflies have huge compound eyes, containing hundreds of lenses that collect much more data than our human eyes. , giving them an advantage to survive in a complex world.
Constant experimentation through trial and error. To be a great problem solver, you must go beyond conventional data to explore tomorrow’s evidence to test hypotheses from experiments. The Internet and instant global communication have made such direct experimentation possible and cost-effective, leading to early pivots and retreats.
Jeff Bezos attributes his growth and success at Amazon to conducting regular change experiments. Bezos believes that if you double the number of experiments you do per year, you are going to double your innovation, and thus outpace your competitors.
Enlist the collective intelligence of the crowd. With the pace of change today, it is unlikely that all the best people to solve any given challenge are within your four walls. Shrewd leaders now cast their net more widely, reaching out to the crowds on the Internet as well as to industry organizations, governments and even competitors.
Of course, this requires that you bring together highly functioning groups of diverse people, which means you have to be willing to share your challenges. It may be a new mindset for you, but in my experience, the return is well worth the time and effort.
Don’t seek risk elimination through perfectionism. Solving big problems under uncertainty requires estimating and betting on constraints through trial and error, leading with low-cost minimum viable prototypes, and accepting that some initiatives will fail. You must embrace the humility of what you can learn, and what is worth knowing at any given time.
Use a show and tell mindset to compel action. It enables you to connect audiences, constituents and customers with the solution, and then use a combination of logic and persuasion to get buy-in. Storytelling will present the case emotionally and logically, connect with the audience’s values and balance risk versus reward.
In all cases, the solution to the problem is a bet on the future, so you need to understand the stakes, or costs, of playing the game. This means assessing the cost of each strategic move, including the cost of doing nothing, or finding a perfect solution, and weighing the payoffs of each possible outcome. Now is the time to hone your problem-solving skills if you hope to survive and thrive.
***First published on Inc.com on 05/02/2023***