Problem solving is one of the most important aspects of entrepreneurship. As both the founder of your organization and the leader of your team, you’ll be responsible for identifying and solving problems of your customers, your partners, your employees, and your company altogether.
Whether successful entrepreneurial problem solvers use their natural talents to find success, or whether those skills are cultivated after years of experience, successful entrepreneurs think about and solve problems differently from other professionals.
So how is this problem solving process distinguished, and what can you learn from it in your own habits?
1. They Identify Problems First
Some people think of entrepreneurial types as creative inventors; given a blank canvas, they can come up with a product that people will love. But that’s not usually the case. Instead, the most successful entrepreneurs are the ones who first identify a key problem in the market, then work to solve that problem.
Airbnb, for example, started when its two founders realized two problems in the same area; one, they were having trouble affording rent in New York, and two, nearly all the hotel rooms in the city were consistently booked. They didn’t come up with the idea out of thin air; they recognized two key problems, and came up with a solution to solve both simultaneously.
2. They Stay Calm
According to one study by TalentSmart, 90 percent of top performers are able to manage their emotions successfully when experiencing high levels of stress. This isn’t a coincidence; when you allow your emotions to get the better of you when facing a problem, you subject yourself to reactive decision making, and lose touch with your logical side. Accordingly, you make poorer decisions, and in some cases, may make yourself look bad in front of your employees.
Of course, “staying calm” when facing a major issue is, itself, a major issue. It takes years of practice and self-discipline to prevent your emotions from taking over, and it requires a perspective that only high-stress experience can give you; no problem is, by itself, unconquerable or incapable of being solved through alternative approaches.
3. They Start General and Work toward Specific
When addressing a problem, most people get caught up in the details, but successful entrepreneurial strategists tend to think about problems more generally before working to the specific details. For example, if their car breaks down on the side of the road, they aren’t immediately concerned with the peculiarities of the engine that led to its malfunction; instead, they recognize that the car isn’t drivable, and work to get it to the side of the road.
This approach helps you see the high-level nature (and consequences) of your current problem, so you can have a reliable context for solving it.
4. They Adapt
Successful entrepreneurs are also willing to adapt to solve a problem; they aren’t beholden to the image, processes, or lines of thinking that got them into the problem in the first place.
For example, Nokia — probably best known as the top cell phone provider in the world between 1998 and 2012 — started out as a paper company that later transitioned to producing rubber tires and galoshes (as the needs of its customers changed). When demand rose for military and emergency service radio phones, Nokia transitioned again and started making phones, eventually selling off its paper and rubber divisions.
When faced with changing available resources, market demand, and competition, they reinvented themselves, rather than remaining stagnant or applying old rubrics to new problems.
5. They Delegate and Distribute
Entrepreneurs also know they aren’t the most effective problem solvers on their own; instead, most problems are best dealt with by specialists who have a better understanding of those problems. Accordingly, when an entrepreneur faces a tough decision or a difficult situation, they defer judgment to other experts, and call in help to solve the problem as efficiently as possible.
They aren’t afraid to delegate authority to the internal hires they trust, and they aren’t hesitant to spend money on external firms and consultants if it means solving the problem faster and more efficiently.
6. They Measure Outcomes and Reflect
Solving the problem isn’t the last step of the problem-solving problem for successful entrepreneurs. After applying a fix, they spend time measuring the results of their efforts with analytics tools, and reflecting on those outcomes. Learning from their approach, whether it was a success or failure, is what equips them to make even better decisions in the future.
Even if you aren’t an entrepreneur in your own right, there’s much to gain from adopting the problem solving tactics of top entrepreneurial decision makers. Applying different modes of thinking and new leadership styles, and being open to more potential problem solving options will help you solve problems more thoroughly, and reap better long-term results.