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Are we solving the right problems in the right way?

Think of a problem, any problem (no, this isn't a magic trick or a maths lesson on the sly). It can be a problem impacting your business at the moment ("we're not making enough profit", perhaps), a personal issue ("I'm not spending enough time with my family", could be one) or even a global challenge ("climate change" springs to mind). Right, got one? Good, let's proceed!

Next step is to translate that problem into a question that you need to address. In the examples above these might be: "How do we make more profit?"; "How do I spend more time with my family"; "How do we overcome climate change?"

Whilst these questions are reasonable, are they good enough? On the face of it, yes! They lay out what we want to achieve and are easy to digest so, why the self-reflection?

Well, here's the thing: The more time you put into defining the question you need answering, the better the quality of your answer. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, that man Albert Einstein knew what he was saying when he stated "If I only had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than 5 minutes".

So, if we look again at the questions above, they seem just too generic, too wide-ranging to really justify a great answer. An analytical mind may say: "Is it making more revenue or reducing costs that is more the challenge?" or "Over what timescales are we talking?". Whilst a pedant will find plenty to go after: "What do you mean by family? Is it immediate family, extended family, friends that you consider family....?". They might also not really be the problem that you want to solve, perhaps it's more "What are the major changes we need to make in the next 5 years to best prepare for the impacts of climate change?" or "How do I convince others that climate change is a legitimate concern?"

Once you get going, you can literally spend weeks defining, tweaking and redesigning the questions until you have something perfect to answer. Not only will this require great depths of soul searching but this is time you may not have on your side; so, how can you do this in a much more effective manner?

Based on our years of combined experience, here are five top tips to help any problem solving or strategy setting:

  1. Get the right people in a room - this will help get more creativity in defining the problem (as well as potential solutions), increases the level of knowledge of the underlying problem and accelerates buy-in and alignment for your solution

  2. Back things up with fact - try as much as possible to take a data-led approach to determining your problem (and therefore your solution) rather than basing it on hearsay or too many gut-feelings

  3. Be as specific as possible - really be clear what customer segment, what region, what timescales, what variable, etc. you want to address

  4. Think tangentially and be bold - could your answer be even more ambitious? Perhaps what you think is the problem is actually a symptom of something else and you should be solving something of a higher order

  5. Write it down simply and share as much as possible - once you are happy with the refinement of the question, don't stop talking about it. You want as many people as possible to know about it so they will buy-in to it, will support you in answering it and who knows may be the key to solving it.

The absolute worst thing for a good question would be to hide it away; it then loses focus and fundamentally will mean you've just wasted your time shaping it. It goes without saying that having too many questions to answer at the same time is an indication that your focus is too thinly-spread; at that point you need to decide which is the more important question.

We know this is hard but, trust us, defining the right problem and getting all the fundamentals above in place will much better set you up for success.

If you feel that you're a little bit rusty at this or would just value an expert helping hand, then drop me and the team at Shiageto Consulting a line and we'll happily get you on the right question (and answer) path.

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