Problem-solving is a key ability that we use every day in every part of our life and is crucial to being able to run a successful business. New business ideas stem from solving preexisting problems in a market, clients no doubt will have issues with your service/product and there will be a whole host of other little problems you will face day-to-day that all need to be resolved in order for you to rest easy at night. With it being such a much-needed skill I thought I would do some research into how to improve the art of problem-solving.
There are a few aspects that it the ability boils down to which are:
- Evaluating the information and the situation.
- Breaking this down into key segments.
- Considering multiple ways to solve the problem.
- Deciding on the best option.
In evaluating the problem, first of all, you have to clarify what it actually entails, this is the most important step because determining the answer to the wrong issue will obviously not be productive. Constantly ask the question why in order to get to the heart of the problem rather than just accepting what you can see at face value without digging deeper into the heart of the problem itself. Ask the other questions too, start with the general questions such as; what is it doing?; how is it doing it?; why is it doing it?; what are its relationships with other components?; what can I do to test the assumption?. Then move on to the more specific questions once you have a better understanding of the dilemma. Another thing that is necessary is to gather as much information as possible. This element is very similar to asking constant questions as it will help to have an extensive knowledge on the issue. Once all of this is done you can clearly define an objective to set out and solve.
Breaking the problem down is doing just that, making the whole process more manageable so you don’t feel overwhelmed and frustrated by creating smaller slices of work. With a clear objective and the material you have gathered, you can set about analysing the problem and implement steps that can be taken in small chunks. Once this has been done identify the easiest step and start with that, after this is completed, move on to the next easiest step until you have completed all of the steps you set out to achieve.
When considering multiple ways to solve a problem make sure that you are focusing on the solution rather than the actual problem as this will only draw negative emotions and block potential solutions. One of the major things you can do at this stage is to have an open mind as this will allow you to consider every bit of knowledge you have acquired to solve the problem. Having a closed mind will only mean you can only come up with a small percentage of solutions compared to an open mind as you shut off anything that you feel is not necessary but actually could be more important than you realise. These ‘stupid solutions’ may trigger more viable solutions to be found as they stimulate creative thinking. Another way to inspire a solution is to think laterally about something, try new ways to look at problems from all angles for example changing the objective so you are finding the solution for the polar opposite. Or just simplify things, strip the problem of all the complications and go back to basics to find an obvious solution. Throughout these steps, you should always be inquisitive and notice not only the problem but everything that surrounds it like patterns, anything that shouldn’t be there, anything that’s missing. After doing this you then ask why? It may also be helpful to ask someone from outside the project about the problem to get either beginners eyes or an opinion of someone who isn’t as close to the issue. You should come up with 2 or 3 options that you think may solve the issue before moving on to the final step.
Once you have created a few hypotheses it is time now to decide on the best option to take forward. This can be a tricky part of the process but remember that even if it fails you will learn from this allowing you to make a better judgment in the future. That is why it is important that if you do fail you dust yourself off and learn from it then go at it again. It is good practice when deciding to view the whole thing neutrally so you have no biases when making the decision and it is purely from logical thought. Then when ready it is time to test your hypothesis by putting it into action. Work out how you will review it to see if the plan produces the desired results and go about measuring it.
Ways to practice problem-solving
- Pick an everyday item and think of as many things it can be used for other than its intended purpose.
- Games such as Mastermind (logical thinking), Set (observation), 2048 (planning ahead), Petals around rose (observation), Sudoku, Chess.
- Computer games which involve strategic planning.
- Practical interests such as programming and computer repairs.
If you have any tips about practicing problem-solving share them in the comments!
As a procrastinator myself I always seem to find something better to do than something productive. Whether it be watching Netflix, TV, little everyday tasks etc, which has led me to believe that sitting down and starting to do something worthwhile is the hardest part of any task. With so many distractions out in the world, now so more than ever with increased technological advancements it makes it even easier for us to choose the unfavourable action of procrastination. Which leads to a constant underlying feel of guilt whenever we are not completely on task. So I had a little look into why we put off things that are of importance and what we can do about it.
Why do we procrastinate? There are a few reasons this does in fact happen:
- Skill deficit-lack of a particular skill needed to complete the task.
- Lack of interest in the material.
- Lack of motivation-interestingly most procrastinators feels that there is something wrong with them if they lack motivation. But it has been said that motivation actually follows doing rather than the other way around. To increase motivation for a task you first have to sit down and perform it.This means the work is the actual motivator.
- Fear of failure.
- Fear of success-a feeling that your self-worth is tied into your level of achievement. If you do well then you feel more is expected of you so you fear the consequences of achievement.
- Feeling overwhelmed by the size of a project.
How can we prevent procrastination?
The most useful I found was probably to break down the job you are trying to complete into smaller tasks if you still feel uncomfortable tackling these, just break them down again until you have reached the point where you think these are easy to accomplish. This eliminates your overwhelmed feeling and will fill you with more confidence in being able to complete what is asked thereby reducing your fear of failure. Also, this allows you to celebrate the small wins as with every task you finish it will bring a sense of pride. Over the whole process, you have numerous moments of joy instead of only one right a the end. This can really help with the motivational side of things and build confidence in your abilities.
Alongside this should be a timeline you construct of all these little chunks of a project given specific deadlines rather than just one overall job deadline. This will help you stick to each individual task and have it done before a certain time.
Another effective way of combating procrastination is to change the environment you are working in, for example, does the place you work make you feel inspired to crack on or does it make you want to sleep? If it is the second option then you will need to change it, this also includes getting rid of anything that may distract you such as televisions, games consoles, friends, family, social media. For this there are a few apps you can subscribe to that will block you from websites that you spend a lot of time procrastinating on these are RescueTime and Freedom.
A few other things that you could do is to spend time with people who inspire you to gain that extra level of motivation before you start; constantly ask yourself ‘is this really getting me closer to my goals?’ and if not then go out and change it, stop what you are doing and do something more in line with your goals. Don’t think about it, just do it so you don’t have time to convince yourself otherwise.
If you have any ways to beat procrastination please post them in the comments!
Since I last posted about our adventures into starting our own business, my partner and I received an email from Uber saying that if you think you have a great business idea then on the 3rd June in Birmingham we will give you 20 minutes to pitch it to an investor on a ride in one of our taxis. As we are nowhere near ready for investment or even starting, we thought we would give it a shot just for the experience and feedback provided by someone who has a great deal more knowledge of the business world. We had nothing to lose and everything to gain . So we went about applying, but after a few days went by without any contact from Uber and the date creeping up on us, we thought that we had not made the cut. However, on 2nd June the day before the event was about to take place, I got an email saying that we had been selected and told how to activate UberPitch. Great news, but now the pitch had to be written therefore we picked the logical time of starting at 1am in the morning of the 3rd. A couple of hours of writing, analysing and rewriting led us to come up with a 300-word pitch which was a very basic outline of our idea. Happy with our efforts we headed to bed.
The time had come around where Josh was ready to pitch our business concept, thus, he got into the centre of Birmingham and ordered a taxi which could potentially unlock our future. There was a great sense of excitement as Josh headed off pitching our concept to someone who invests in businesses for a living.
The feedback from Josh was extremely positive and he was able to answer some tricky questions raised we had not addressed beforehand. He was able to collect some excellent feedback and ideas from the investor to really develop our idea. This was particularly pleasing as it is why we applied to the process in the first place. The woman also commented that she was surprised at how well it went considering it was the first pitch we had done on our business idea. With this, we were able to practise skills including pitching, writing and analysing speeches, thinking about scalability, how to adjust to unaccounted for questions. This will stand us in good stead for the future and provides a great experience to dwell upon when needed. All this in mind we were greatly pleased with the outcome from Uber pitch. With this done we aim to collect research on what the market really wants from a service such as ours. This is the next point of call for us on our journey to self-employment.
I feel that too often I am too busy lost within myself and the tasks of everyday activities that I fail to step back and really appreciate life. The mind is too easily distracted by everything that we deal with that we lose our sense of appreciation of what it all means to us. We are caught up in rushing around and never taking the time to sit back for a few seconds to take in a situation, to feel the there and now rather than worry or plan for the future.
On realisation of this, I have tried to slow what I am doing and just take the time to ingest my current situation. It feels amazing! To acknowledge how much people have impacted you, your own self-worth, what possessions and lifestyle you have, how lucky I am in the world. It has given me a great sensation of pride at the little achievements I have made and understanding of what someone means to me and what I mean to them. It is something I am trying to do more of as for me it gives a greater mindfulness and inner peace. Just a couple of minutes of appreciating my current circumstances makes me feel so much more positive about myself. I feel more upbeat and I feel a better person inside and out.
I massively recommend this book to everyone, as it helps in not only business but everyday life. If you are struggling to think of an idea for a business then this book will be a godsend. It is only 60ish pages long and about an hour’s read. The lessons it teaches are invaluable making it an essential read.
It starts off by explaining that new concepts are just old ideas recombined to form new innovative processes and products. It goes on to say that an important aspect of recombining old elements was the ability to see relationships and gives the example of discovering behavioural psychology can be used by marketers to produce better advertisements with greater effectiveness.
After this it labels the 5 steps to generating ideas:
- Gather raw material – specific and general.
- Digesting these materials and feel for a relationship – partial ideas will come and you will become tired of trying to fit together the puzzle.
- Drop the idea from your brain – put no effort into it at any time, allows you to mull it over in your sleep and unconscious mind, turn to things that stimulate emotion such as music and the theatre,
- The idea appears out of nowhere.
- Take the idea out into reality.
I think this is an excellent way to view the creative process and provides a guideline for anyone who knows they want to become self-employed but hasn’t got the idea on how they will become so as of yet.
For the size, it is just a fantastic little book of useful information that will come in handy all throughout the lifetime of an entrepreneur.
I had a conversation with my business partner the other day when I was feeling particularly racked with self-doubt about my own credentials to be a business man when he said, “who exactly is cut out for it?”.
I found this a very intriguing point and he went on to say, “It’s for one person to identify the opportunity then rise to that, no one is cut out for it to start with its taking steps.”
I think this is an excellent point and I really don’t think that there is any particular type that is going to more successful in business. What I like about this opinion is that because we see successful people like Richard Branson and Steve Jobs we think they have never felt stressed or doubted their own abilities. But, they almost certainly were when starting out, they didn’t know if they were going to make it. They probably had loads of stresses and self-doubt and that is only natural. They didn’t know everything about the market for their business or much of the business world, but they took steps and learnt from failures and people around them. This is a process that anybody of any type can do, it is not exclusive to the extremely extroverted or wealthy.
I think it is an interesting quote to ponder on and that whoever you are you can be successful.
Dan Priestley’s book is a really insightful book packed with useful knowledge for creating an outstanding business idea, from a man who has been there and done that and been very successful. So what is the entrepreneur revolution? Priestley starts this book by stating that it is the change from the industrial revolution to a new age where most of the population will work for themselves or as part of a small entrepreneurial team. This is the training guide for us to ready ourselves for the new dawn.
A point I particularly liked when reading this book was that he angrily dismissed the usual answers people give to the question “what do you do for a living?”. Almost everyone gives the answer of what their job is or main source of income, but why not state what you want for your life and what drives you to stay alive? Why not say a future software business founder for example? To give your job is not what you live for, what you live for is your passion, purpose and visions. When you think bigger you will do bigger. I think this is a lovely point to make as it will help you see yourself not as a cog in a wheel but you are bigger than any job and are going to follow your dreams and aspirations.
Priestley goes on to generate a list of 10 challenges to help improve what he calls the “Empire Builder mindset”. These all have specific purposes and areas to train you in which he goes into detail in the boom but the brief outline is;
- Make three calls-not to friends or family but to 3 people who may advance the idea you have. See what gems of information come up from these calls, you may learn something invaluable.
- Get your monkey brain a bank account-set up a new bank account and put 10% of your income there which helps you feel safer when taking risks.
- Stop spending time with people who bring you down-Get rid of any proverbial dead wood of friends that don’t inspire you. Spend more time around people who bring the best out of you.
- Carry £1000 cash on your person at all times-gives you power over the reptile brain as you needn’t worry about money when you can afford pretty much anything you see in a shop.
- Buy two lunches per week for people you don’t yet know-this helps build a good network of people and you a great chance to get amazing contacts for the future.
- Tune out from the news-if the news is relevant then you will hear about it from someone and don’t need traditional news to give you all the irrelevant
- Keep a journal-make lists of tasks, write down goals, draw pictures, note down projects for the future.
- Plan your holidays first-this forces you to take the time to rest instead of just saying you will go on holiday but never give yourself the time off.
- Get structured-make appointments with accountants and lawyers to discuss business and wealth-building plans.
- Get your team in place-build a good team of people around you who can help implement ideas and achieve the big goals for the future.
Dan goes into more detail in the book, but these are the basic concepts which in my opinion are a really useful guide to building your business.
The major crux of the book for me and why I found it such an excellent resource for wannabe startups like myself was his talk of his ascending transaction model or ATM. This was a series of progressive things that your business should offer. With claims of turning a personal trainer from a £50k salary to £200k salary in just one year and a consultant go from £80k to £500k this seems to be a proven system-although no one ever mentions the losers! There are 4 parts of this model discussed in detail in the book and it is worth buying just for his discussion of this. These 4 parts are,
- Gifts-free items to the world without expecting anything in return.
- Products for Prospects-product for people who want to try you without committing too much money or time.
- Core product-The products you are famous for.
- Logical next step-an extension on from the core product that carries on your business with a client in a logical way.
He describes these in great detail on how they all work together to turn your idea into a great business as well as going into the rules for creating each one. I can only urge you to buy this to find out how this system works as I think it is a brilliant suggestion from a man who knows a thing or two about business.
This is a real gem of a book and greatly recommend for wannabe startups anywhere, it has loads more knowledge not discussed in this post.
Having listened to a TED talk, Tim Ferris podcast and read the Entrepreneur Revolution recently all touching on the subject of volume I thought it was only right to talk about it in a post. They all share the common ground by saying that successful people generate a lot of volume. In Adam Grant’s talk for TED, he discusses that original thinkers do have a lot of bad ideas but they also produce a few really sensational ideas too. This is down to the sheer amount of thoughts they throw out into the world. In fact, he shows you a picture of the creepiest looking doll you will ever see and it actually turns out that it was invented by Thomas Edison. Adam states “The greatest originals are the ones that fail the most” and this is because they try more times than anyone else. I think this is a powerful message to people wanting to start their own business. That it’s ok to fail, in fact, it is good to fail, that is how we learn and improve ourselves. This is why these “Originals” get so far, they are prolific but do not fear failure.
Entrepreneur Revolution by Dan Priestly,which I shall be reviewing shortly, gave a maxim that “Influence comes from output…not confidence”. It gave examples such as Oprah Winfrey who recorded 4561 episodes of her talk show, has 5 books, numerous magazine articles and radio appearances. Steven Spielberg has directed over 50 films and produced close to 200 movies. I am sure that not all episodes of Oprah’s show are entertaining and I am sure that not all 50 films directed by Mr. Spielberg are Oscar worthy but the sheer volume suggests that producing a large output helps you in becoming successful.
Seth Godin was featured on the Tim Ferriss podcast recently and raised this point further by saying “The number of projects I have done, big or small, exceeds most people. But, the amount of failures I have had dramatically exceeds most people, and I am super proud of that”. Seth Godin being a hugely successful businessman himself again illustrates the idea that volume creates failure but these only make you stronger and more knowledgeable thereby making it more likely you will succeed than someone who dares not disrupt the status quo.
So, volume seems to be the key to success and don’t get disheartened by failure, dust yourself down, analyse what you learnt from the experience, get out there and do it again! As this is what many a great man has done before you.