The copy machine is jammed again.
Your client isn’t happy with your report.
Your competitors are driving prices to the ground.
Grrrr…. Why does the universe hate you so bad?
If petty problems like these are enough to make you panic, you won’t survive in business. Or in life.
Great CEOs and startup founders— great entrepreneurs— think differently. It’s safe to say they see the world differently than us average Joes. They have an amazing ability to zoom in, see flaws, recognize opportunities and connect the dots— things majority of people would ignore.
You might think they’re eccentric, or just a couple of weird, misunderstood geniuses. Regardless, you could benefit from taking a leaf in their playbook.
In this post, I’ll give you a preview of how entrepreneurs think and their badass problem solving strategies.
9 Unusual But Effective Problem Solving Techniques C-Execs and Startup Founders Use
1. Think Of The Worst Possible Solution, Then Do The Complete Opposite
Another problem solving strategy they use is the “wish technique.” They intentionally “wish for the impossible, even to the point of violating laws of nature,” says Mattimore. Sometimes, doing that helps you find innovative solutions, but in most cases you can use the impossible as a guide, then work your way backwards to something more realistic.
2. Ask Better Questions
If you want better answers then you need to ask better questions. The same applies when you’re solving a problem. So instead of asking the same old boring questions like, “How can we solve this?” or “What’s wrong with this?,” try asking deeper questions like, “Is this true or is it just an assumption?” and “What are the triggers or chain of events that lead to this?”
Rumor is, Bill Gates asks too many questions to his executives and as a result, people who work with him are required to train in Precision Questioning/Precision Answering.
Microsoft’s Precision Questioning/Precision Answering approach has 7 categories:
- Go or No Go: Is this a problem worth tackling?
- Clarifying and understanding the issue: What does this really mean?
- Breaking down assumptions: Is this true or based on assumptions? Do we have evidence to support this?
- Basic questions: What caused this? When or where did this start?
- Effects: Who and what will be affected by this problem?
- Action: Based on everything we have so far, what could we possibly do?
3. Ask Your Advisors and Mentors
You’re not the only one with answers. “Reach out to mentors and advisers who have been really helpful,” suggests Joey Price CEO of Jumpstart:HR LLC., an HR outsourcing firm.
Ask people in the same business as you, or someone who has experienced something similar in the past. Just make sure you’re open to getting advice! Some people ask questions then get upset and defend their way of thinking as soon as they’re faced with opposition.
4. Connect the Dots by Associating Two (Or Three) Seemingly Unrelated Things
Kevin Tumlinson, author of Sawyer Jackson book series and host of Wordslinger podcast, uses a cross-pollination method for problem. He asks, “Have I seen anything similar to this in another industry?”
He adds, “Often, I’ll find that what works for one problem will work with what I’m facing, with just a small amount of modification (if any).”
Enrich your life by exposing yourself to different things, however unrelated or useless it seems.
Steve Jobs lived with this philosophy in mind. He dropped out of college and attended calligraphy classes, plus a bunch of other classes that interested him but weren’t really related to his field of study. Years later, his calligraphy lessons inspired him to create the first computer with beautiful fonts.
When they were developing Apple II, a computer he wanted every home in America to have, Jobs found inspiration in Macy’s aisle for kitchen appliances. Computers and kitchen appliances have nothing in common, except for the fact that they’re now part of our everyday lives.
5. Ask New Employees… Or Your Kids
New employees aren’t limited by office politics, red tape and the usual way of thinking that’s limiting your organization. Ask them about your problems to give you a fresh perspective, or use them as a sounding board for your ideas, suggests Josh Lindenmuth, CIO of Payce Inc., a payroll outsourcing company.
“I’ve even asked my 7 and 10 year olds for assistance, and in a couple situations they’ve even provided the framework for a unique solution no grownup would’ve ever devised,” says Lindenmuth.
6. When Things Get Complicated, Consider What’s Best For Whoever Is Affected
Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, puts customers first. Whenever Amazon is faced with a tough problem, they simplify it by focusing on what’s best for the customer. Even if the proposed solution is unfavorable to them, they continue with the mindset that everything will work out in the end.
7. Look at the Problem as a Whole
After that, he prints the mind map and tries to get away from the problem by working in a park or hotel lobby. The mind map and change of scenery help him reorganize his thoughts, and see things in a different angle.
Bill Gates does something similar. He maps out the situation by asking different questions:
- “What are the different factors or moving parts involved in this problem?”
- “How does the system work as a whole?”
- “What are the different factors that influence or affect it?”
8. Go Straight To the Source…. And Make Them Tremble In Fear
Bezos is famous for his one character, “?”email. Yes, that’s all he sends in the email! You’d think it’s crazy, but that one email from him is enough to get any Amazon employee to panic.
Whenever Bezos receives a complaint, issue or problem in his public email, he forwards it to whoever’s in charge with a question mark (?). The recipient then has to find a solution fast, before he’s required to present it to his manager, who then forwards the solution to Bezos.
The lesson? Sometimes, you need to go direct to the source. Creating a sense of urgency doesn’t hurt either.
9. Use Lucid Dreaming
Mary Long, Chief Ghost at Digital Media Ghost shares her unusual strategy, “When I have a tough business problem that I just can’t work through, I just set it aside…
Then I make it a point to nearly obsess about it before falling asleep. I always sort out the solution in my dreams!”
Long can’t remember where she first heard or encountered this strategy, but says she’s done it for a while now and it’s worked for her. And in case you’re wondering, it’s not just Long who does this. Christopher Nolan, Inception’s director, was inspired to create the movie because of his own lucid dreaming adventures. There are tons of studies and books in this subject matter, too.
Have a Tough Problem? Keep Calm And Apply These Techniques
Are you facing a tough challenge in your business? At work? Whatever it is you’re facing, know that there’s always a way out.
Practice these problem solving skills, and see how it works for you.