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Using Creative Problem Solving

Resolving Complex Problems as a Tech Entrepreneur

There is a misconception that that once we find some sort of calm after the current crisis caused by  the Coronavirus pandemic, everything will be reset and we will be set to go back to life as usual; going about our slow and predictable lives, continuing to be ignorant about important political, social and technological affairs  – I know vehemently that this is not true.

We are always facing a crisis in some form or another and having to process issues, particularly as business owners and entrepreneurs. What separates a true entrepreneur in the marketplace from a rookie is how one goes about processing, solving and bouncing back from a crisis. Some issues have a lifespan of a few months whilst other last an hour, a day or maybe a week. In this article I want to share some of the most effective techniques I have used to identify and process issues during my career as a tech entrepreneur. Hopefully this can help you understand where your organisation stands as you respond to COVID-19.

The future is not what it used to be.

Jörg Friedrichs

An Approach to Resolving Complex Problems

How do we go about resolving  problems quickly and reliably? The thought process of a successful individual when they approach a complex commercial, social or technical problem is much more difficult to learn than memorising the syntax of a programming language, or even passing standardised tests.

Continually resolving complex problems takes years of experience and practice to get good at, but once you have it down you’ll be able to instinctively turn your ideas into reality with incredible effectiveness and efficiency.

Let’s have a look at the steps involved in what many consider to be the most important skill of a technology entrepreneur: Problem Solving.

1. Define the problem, and have a clear vision of what you want to achieve

Defining the problem is the most crucial step. Be sure to include information around the potential impact of the problem i.e. What is the worst-case scenario if the problem does not get resolved? If the problem is highly technical consider writing the steps to reproduce the problem and the conditions in which the problem occurs.

Contrast your problem statement with a statement of your goals in the clearest way, particularly if achieving those goals will require the mobilisation of your team’s talents. Having a clear statement of the problem and your goal will help your team quickly understand your pain points and hit the road running in supporting you.

2. Research and refine the problem

Go out and research what other people have done to solve the same problem because you’re likely not the first one with the issue and it is perfectly okay and typically encouraged to use other people’s solutions and experience as a starting point to resolving your own problems. You might at this point break the larger problem into smaller pieces or “chunks”.

Most problems present themselves as incredibly simple at first, but once you scratch beyond the surface of the issue through rigorous research you might find that your original assumptions are challenged.

I once did consultancy work for a young manager who was overwhelmed, maintaining thousands of customer records using spreadsheets and had successfully motivated for a huge budget in order to build several custom information systems to reduce the overhead associated with creating, updating and deleting customer data. During our early consultations we realised that we could significantly reduce development costs by simply purchasing an existing of-the-shelf product and deploying this onto their intranet.  

3. Propose some solutions 

Thinking is more important than doing; according to Harvard Business Review it is more important to spend more time thinking about a problem than actually acting on it. If you act on the least effective solution you might find yourself regressing in the problem solving process, or even worse, creating new problems entirely.

If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it

Albert Einstein

It is now time to brainstorm alternative solutions. Software developers and engineers often first outline how they will implement alternative solutions on a white board or piece of paper. This allows them to focus on the logic of their solutions and decisions without having to worry too deeply about the details of implementation.

Don’t be afraid to find experts and use them as counsel to assess the feasibility of your possible solutions. It is important to test your ideas in a safe environment – this will seem counterintuitive if you’re not open to criticism. Identify and eliminate poor options earlier in the process when it is cheaper to do so.

Try trial versions from various software vendors and experiment with software if you are considering purchasing a license to resolve your specific set of business pain points. If you are working in the technology space and are about to build a critical feature that your business depends on you should also test your solutions in a sandbox environment.

4. Act and measure your impact

You constantly have to measure your impact against your original goals. This will help prevent regressions in your project, because sometimes we make poor judgement calls and begin implementing solutions that might not be ideal. Don’t beat yourself up if you realise you chose a poor solution; Rather revert your changes, establish control over the situation and explore the feasibility of other approaches. 

Let’s Learn to Enjoy Problem Solving

Problem solving is just like learning to play a musical instrument: You’re not going to pick it up and start making music right away. I had to spend a huge amount of time practicing and pushing myself to overcome new technical challenges before I could play in front of an audience when I was learning to play the jazz trombone. To become really good at anything you have to practice and repeat until the technique becomes intuitive. With enough practice in problem-solving your mind develops the ability to look at a problem, run through the steps above and visualise the possible impact of various courses of action. 

In closing I want to remind you all that we are in business to stay in business – so always remain calm and do whatever it takes to ensure you judge problems in a sober way, and choose solutions that will help you make it out of whatever crisis you are experiencing.

What issues has COVID-19 presented for your business and how did  you go about resolving those issues? Let me hear what you have to say in the comment section below and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog HERE. Stay safe!