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5 keys to seeing business problems as opportunities rather than burdens

Most business leaders see problems as a burden. Here’s how to turn them into an asset.

As a long-time business advisor, and an investor in startups along the way, I’m always on the lookout for an entrepreneur who is responding first to a problem in the marketplace, rather than bringing a new technology to the market, assuming it will find a problem to solve.

I assert that problem solvers are more likely to succeed, since every business comes with plenty of problems.

I personally love passion and technology, but these alone don’t make a business. If you haven’t yet realized the greater value of a problem solving mentality, I offer the following strategies that I believe should and can be followed by all aspiring entrepreneurs, and existing business owners, to start looking at problems as opportunities, rather than barriers to satisfaction and progress:

  1. Adopt a positive view that problems bring opportunity.

People who see problems as negatives to be overcome are doomed to a life of unhappiness. This saps their passion and energy, and limits their thinking and success. The entrepreneurs I respect actively look for the next problem, celebrate every success, and see failures as learning events.

A few years ago, Safeway and other big retailers struggled with the growing problem of plastic bag cost and pollution, before realizing they could actually sell reusable cloth bags to customers, as a win to all. A recurring expense was turned into a recurring revenue.

  1. Openly acknowledge current challenges in your business.

Business leaders who see problems only as a burden tend to hide them from the team, or actually ignore them until a crisis hits. This prevents everyone from fully understanding the context, root cause, and steps to resolve it. The result is missed opportunities, emotional in-fighting, and blame.

The current pandemic, for example, has been a hit to most businesses, both in terms of servicing customers, as well as protecting employees. The best have openly worked out new processes for both, including work from home, and home delivery or drive-by pickup.

  1. Follow a fixed process to evaluate and resolve problems.

Don’t let emotions control your efforts, so first stay calm and focused. Formally define the scope of the problem, followed by documenting the solution alternatives from team members and experts, and a timeframe for solution. Finally, make a timely decision and build an implementation plan.

One of the most successful entrepreneurs today, Elon Musk, is an outspoken proponent of the First Principle method of evaluating problems, defined long ago by Aristotle. This requires challenging all assumptions and reverting to nature to get a root problem cause.

  1. Avoid perfectionism – no problems have a perfect solution.

In my experience, perfectionism is the biggest detriment to solving problems quickly. The search for a perfect solution delays progress, hurts morale, and blinds everyone to practical quick solutions which are good enough. The result is unhappy people, making no progress.

Steve Jobs, by his own assessment, started out as an adamant perfectionist. With his obsession for detail, it took more than three years to develop the Macintosh. Over time, Jobs managed to temper his perfectionism and succeed in the bigger consumer market.

  1. Tap into the collective intelligence around you.

Too many business leaders fear that asking for help will make them look weak. I urge you to take full advantage of business advisors, expertise within your team, and direct communication with customers. They will respect and trust you for sharing, and you will get real insight from different perspectives.

Building relationships with others, and effective listening, are the keys to utilizing the intelligence around you. Start by walking around and getting to know the other members of your team. Outside connections usually come by taking a more active role in your industry and community. The Internet and social media are also a key knowledge source.

The best part of adopting these strategies is that they can turn some of your most distasteful activities into satisfying ones, and lead to business success rather than failure.

You may even decide to reboot your career from one of following someone else’s direction, to following your own dream of entrepreneurship and changing the world. There is no better time than today to start.


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