Take Your Biggest Problem…and Skip It
By Daniel Burrus
Every business has problems that can
halt progress and cause the company to stagnate: slow cash flow,
out-of-date technology, long sales cycles, etc. Often when trying to
“fix” the problem, the company gets even more mired in the challenge
and can’t seem to get past the roadblock. Often they focus on the
problem, shift into crisis management and let it dictate their every
A better solution to solving those
tough problems is to just skip it. That’s right, skip the problem
completely. How can this help? When you confront your roadblock by
leaping over it rather than having it stop you from reaching your
goals, you see new solutions that you never realized existed.
Realize that this strategy is very different than procrastination or
avoidance, because it is based on recognizing the real, underlying
problem and making a conscious decision to find a way to move
forward instead of being blocked by it.
If you think this solution sounds
fanciful and idealistic, think again. It’s actually a great way to
free your mind and see the problem in a new light. Consider the
following real-life examples of how this solution helps companies
overcome challenges and make smarter decisions.
A small manufacturing
business started getting many requests for additional products, but
in order to meet the increased demand, the company would have to
borrow the capital necessary for a major expansion. The business was
relatively new and without a track record, and the bank rejected
their loan request. The company skipped the problem by pre-selling
the products, and with advanced orders in-hand, they were able to
secure the loan.
Instead of purchasing
expensive software and servers and then having to upgrade a few
years later, many companies are skipping the problem by using
application service providers (ASP) who provide the software and
related hardware via the Internet and charge a flat fee per-user.
Several years ago, a
pharmaceutical company decided that in order to solve molecular
problems faster and accelerate new product development, it would
need to triple the number of R&D employees. The problem was that
employee costs would also triple, and the company couldn’t afford
that. The company was able to skip the problem of hiring expensive
employees by creating an online scientific forum, wherein the
company posts difficult chemical and molecular problems and offers
cash to anyone who can solve the problem. By making the site open to
any scientist with an Internet connection and posting the problems
in over a dozen languages, the company created a global, virtual R&D
talent pool that has found solutions to problems that have literally
stumped its own researchers. One of the great beauties of this
strategy is that the company pays for the virtual researchers’ time
and effort only if they come up with a feasible working solution.
The amount of money the company pays for a solution depends on the
difficulty of the problem. Some of the awards have been as high as
$100,000, although most are in the $2,000 to $3,000 bracket. To
date, engineers and scientists from Beijing to Moscow have worked at
solving the companies’ molecular problems without being an employee.
Don’t Get Stuck; Move Forward:
A difficult problem can easily
become a roadblock so large that it seems impossible to get around
it. The result is often procrastination. The longer the problem is
in place, the more you become convinced there are no solutions. Here
are a few simple steps you can use to skip your problem.
1) Your problem isn’t the real problem. Often, you can’t see
the real problem because you’re blinded by what you perceive is the
problem. By skipping what you perceive as the problem, you are free
to discover the real problem. For example, the pharmaceutical
company previously mentioned thought their problem was not having
the budget to hire a large number of scientific and technical
researchers. But when they skipped that problem they saw that their
real problem was being able to find molecular solutions. Therefore,
forget about what you think is the problem. If that problem simply
didn’t exist, what would be the real problem? Often the real problem
(and solutions) will surface once you eliminate the perceived
2) Think in terms of opposites.
Often, the opposite of what you perceive is the problem is really
your solution. For example, if your problem is “saving money,”
what’s the opposite of that? Spending money. So instead of focusing
on how you can save money, try focusing on your company’s spending.
When you focus on the spending and alter your company’s spending
habits, the “saving money” solution becomes evident.
3) Look at technology for help. Today’s technology offers a wealth
of options for solving numerous problems. Can’t find a good typist
for your company? How about using dictation software? Need a way to
get more ideas for products or services? Use the Internet to connect
to customers via online surveys. Look at what you need done and find
a technology solution to automate it for you.
4) Peel the onion. Think of your problem as the top layer of an
onion. To find the problem, you need to peel it back by listing the
components of the problem to see if you are working on the correct
issue. Often you’ll find that the core issue you’re focusing on
isn’t the one that’s causing the most pain, but that a sub-issue is
truly at the heart of your problem.
5) Focus on one issue at a time. Sometimes a problem is
complex and has many components working against you all at once. In
fact, many problems are made up of multiple problems. You’ll be
better able to see the real problem (the one you should focus on)
when you separate the other problems.
Skip to the Finish:
Every problem has a solution—some better than others. The key to
breaking through your problem roadblocks is to realize that there
are many paths to a destination, and some don’t have roadblocks. By
asking yourself if you can skip the problem completely, you free
your mind to look beyond the roadblock. That is usually where the
best solution lies.
Read other articles and learn more
about Daniel Burrus.
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