Problem Solving

Problem solving in business for leaders: solve the right problem

The term problem-solving is used in many disciplines. I’m concerned and work with problem-solving in business. Specifically how to identify the root problem for a challenge in business, and then effectively go and solve it. A business leader solves problems typically by analysing , making decisions and facilitating problem-solving with a team of colleagues. Don’t solve problems yourself if someone else or others are better at doing it, as it is results that matter not recognition. Looking at tools and ideas to help with problem-solving is problematic! If you google “problem-solving” or search articles on online, there is a mass of stuff, on psychology, tech, and most areas of life, arts and science. So, my problem with how many people go about problem- solving?! Focus, lack of it. You need to solve the right problem. And let the right person solve it. Help them of course, that’s leadership. Here are ideas on problem-solving in business.

What’s the Problem?

Entrepreneurs and inventors come up with ideas and ask for support or funding. Or employees and managers ask their bosses about a problem, or to support a solution they highlight a problem. Investor colleagues and Boards I sit on will first ask the person, are you sure this is the real problem, the real issue and your solution therefore the right route to take? Too often work starts or is commissioned based upon a poor diagnosis. Peter Bregman in a 2015 Harvard Business Review article says, “Are You Trying to Solve the Wrong Problem?” Specifically, he suggests that tough, or seemingly insoluble problems may be solved by trying to reframe the problem. Asa Raskin in a blog says, understand the problem. And says, “When you are solving a difficult problem re-ask the problem so that your solution helps you learn faster. Find a faster way to fail, recover, and try again.” Idea Management Software is an excellent tool to identify, collate and choose solutions. I have spent years in this market and recommend it. A very simple Marketing Brief template here can be used to clarify exactly what work is needed for a campaign. For a Project Plan I use the BOSCAM acronymn recommended by John Cornish expert Project Planner, identifying Project, Background, Objectives, Scope, Constraints, Assumptions and Methods.

Stop Problem Solving Start Leading

In business, the objective is to solve problems. It is not to win prizes for solving problems. Entrepreneurs start off solving a problem, and need to grow a business by allowing others to solve the problems. Equally, for all but sole traders, the leadership task is to step back and facilitate problem-solving. There is a lot of problem solving literature written on the topic. For example, Michaelson, Spiegel and Markus “Stop solving your business problems” 2010, on how many leaders are proud of their problem-solving skills, but this can get in the way of allowing more widescale effective, company-wide such activity.

A Team Approach

Harness the energy of your employees. One recent large company survey cited “Workplace Collaboration Survey Finds 89% of Employees Want a More Interactive Approach to Solving Business Problems.” This was in Los Angeles this year, a company called Oblong Industries. Enthusiasm is one thing, perhaps the first step, but your staff may ask you, how do you solve problems? I was partly amused, and shocked at an article I read, entitled, “teaching business problem-solving skills.” by Keith Denton in Supervision Magazine – more here on Creating a Problem Solving Culture. He finds many people need to be taught problem-solving skills, more so than in the past, due to the over reliance on “googling problem solving”.

Some Tools to Use with Your Team

CPS – Creative Problem Solving

There is no better man than the Jeffrey Baumgartner to explain this. He is very clear. It’s not just brainstorming but a well-defined  7 step process – see here.

Problem Analysis Tree

The problem, objective and strategy tree analysis is one participatory tool of mapping out main problems, along with their causes and effects – see here

5 Whys

There are various templates for this, I like the simplest one – see here Where you keep working backwards to find the root cause. Or across a whole project you can use this.


A sequential approach, identify, gather data through to implementation but even so here are some nice templates:

Finally and Critically

There are of course problems for the leader. These don’t go away. And leadership is a lonely place. But owners, CEOs and directors, need to leave space to think and make decisions. Solve the sort of problems appropriate for the boss. Nick Hixson has an excellent video on decisions here. I will be writing more on taking control: the issue that unless you are in control of your personal life in fact all aspects of what you want to achieve, you cannot manage the business. Steve Barker’s Five Maps of adult Territory nicely describe different aspects of our life and work – here. A balanced outlook enables a considered view. Easy to say, not easy to do. As I noted earlier, the problem with problem-solving is focus. You need to solve the right problem. And let the right person solve it. Help them of course, that is leadership.

Peter Eales BA Hons Chartered Marketer FCIM FIDM
Founder Director Dorset Business Angels
MD o i solutions limited

Posted in Blog.