Nowadays, in times of uncertainty and change, business challenges are not a possibility, but a reality that every business will face sooner or later. In periods of Great Acceleration, the kind of problems that most companies face are more complex, wicked and entangled than any time before. Globalization, global turmoils, digital transformation and political wreckages, among other factors, are changing markets worldwide, making them a far more complex issue to deal with.
Therefore, we must learn to face complexity. In “business as usual” environments we are used to confront with operational challenges, where there is a linear relationship between causes and problems. But for complex problems, this approach is no longer working. Sometimes there is emergent complexity involved, making things even harder to understand.
Hence, knowing how to approach complexity, overcoming obstacles and finding feasible solutions is a necessary skill set for any successful manager. The good news is that this ability can be learned and trained. It is far more related to design thinking than to business process management, as the former is a much more suitable approach to face and solve complex problems. This is not the moment to dive into design thinking methodologies, but we can pick some pieces of advice to learn.
1. Find the right problem to solve.
Most managers choose the wrong direction because they did not take their time to think about what the real problem looks alike. When facing a problem, first we need to research as long as possible, facing the challenge from different angles, and defining it in several ways to fully understand its causes. If properly done, we will get the right questions to answer.
2. Focus on customers.
Most business challenges come from the customer side, not from competitors. Usually, we look too much at other companies trying to find the root causes for our struggles. But probably, if we take a closer look, we might find that they come from our mistakes on serving our clients. This point is strongly related to the previous one, and probably the first question we should ask is whether we are failing or not to deliver value to our customers
3. Take a contextual approach
The focus on customers means a contextual approach. We should explore the whole customer experience, not just our business processes, and try to link each other. Problems are rarely isolated in one department, they usually have interwoven causes, with minor problems feeding back each other to create a big one. At this moment we may find where these problems are, exploring different departments and engaging with all the people in the firm. Learning how to break the silo mentality is here mandatory, and everyone involved should try to do it.
4. Try open innovation
We should leverage creativity and ideation from all people. We can never know where the solution will arise. This also means some future thinking, trying to imagine what that future could encompass. This kind of skills are highly valuable for a company, and every manager might include them into their teams.
5. Look for multiple solutions
It is important to identify multiple possible solutions, prioritizing them following a simple rule: the most simple, doable solution is far superior to the complicated. Once prioritized and selected, just start trying solutions until you find the right one.
6. Choose the right team
Sixth, make things happen by selecting the team who is going to deliver the solution and measure results. Probably you will find that problem solutions are complex as well, and sometimes have unintended and unexpected outcomes, both positive and negative. For every case, the right approach is to learn from experience and to try another solution again in case of adverse effects.
What does problem-solving require?
Hence, problem-solving requires some precise skills, such as an analytical mind, combined with creativity, a proactive mindset, and tolerance to failure. Nobody can master all these skills at the same time. Because of that, business challenges should be faced by committed teams, where individuals with different backgrounds meet and work together, to find the right solution for any problem. To lead this kind of teams effectively, managers need to account for that which is beyond their understanding, being comfortable leading people who have the expertise they do not, and adapting to unforeseen market situations, dealing with uncertain opportunities.
In the end, maybe is all about building resilient organizations, with the skills to cope shocks, adapting and transforming as easy and quick as possible. Probably, this is one reason why innovation is so important for any company. Growing an innovative environment in any company will provide with useful skills to deal with complexity and potential shocks.