Posted by bob on August 30, 2016

Would you expect to win an Olympic competition with no practice or training?

Of course not, that would be ridiculous.

Would you expect to be able to run a competitive 1600 meter race against a random collection of folks your own age?  When you are out-of-shape and with no practice? 

Of course not, some of those folks might be daily runners and you would not stand a chance.

So why do some people believe that problem-solving is something we can do without any practice, without doing periodic exercise and training?  I think that is equally absurd.

In our day-to-day business lives, we are competing with top-tier performers in every aspect of business.  These are engineers and managers who know how to clearly document their daily work.  They know how to ask the Five Questions:

  • What do we know?
  • What are the rules?
  • What don’t we know?
  • How will we find out the stuff we don’t know?
  • How will we know when we are done solving?

Importantly, these competitors understand that they live in dynamic times.  The methods, tools, and processes that they used yesterday, need constant attention to be ready for tomorrow.  These guys constantly challenge assumptions.  They go back to first principles and confirm the stuff in their “what do I know” lists.

Most importantly, the best competitors never forget that they are in business to solve the problems of their customer—not their own problems.  I see daily reminders of companies that are heading for disaster, because they are making their customers furious by making choices that clearly are for their own convenience.

The next time you have a small or even trivial problem to solve, practice using your best problem-solving methods.  Document the heck out of the problem.  Write it up clearly, and publish it widely.  Exercise the skills you will need for a big problem.  You will be building the muscles you need to compete at the highest levels.  You are preparing for the future.  You are increasing your endurance.  And you are also demonstrating those skills to your bosses.  Unless they are idiots, they will notice.

You are going to need every ounce of that preparation to survive in today’s business world.  It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and you are wearing edible clothing.  Many of those yapping dogs want to bite you on your rear-end (or worse). 

It’s much better to be ready to move faster and smarter than your competitors.