Solving Big Problems By...Skipping Them?
What's the biggest problem you're facing now? Think about it: small budgets? Poor morale? Decreasing retention? The best way to solve it, according to respected futurist and author of Flash Foresight: How to See the Invisible and Do the Impossible, Daniel Burrus, is to skip it. That's right. Skip it. Don't try to confront your roadblocks, just leap right over them. How does it work? Does it work?
Your Problem IS Not Your Problem
In 2001, pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly had a problem, a billion dollar problem. Their patent for Prozac, which accounted for a third of its annual sales, was due to expire. Panicked, they scrambled to develop a new "wonder drug," boosting their R&D budget by 30 percent.
When shareholders found out that the patent was about to expire, Lilly's stock dropped a third in value in one day, taking $36 billion in equity with it. With no exciting drugs in the pipeline, profits plummeted. But in order to develop those new drugs, they had to solve complex molecular puzzles. Those puzzles required the minds of 1000 or more PhD employees, which Lilly couldn't afford.
So their problem was that they didn't have the budget to hire staff. Skip it. That's not the real problem. The real problem was those pesky molecular puzzles. Lilly created a global online forum and posted the problems in a dozen different languages. Paying for only the solutions they wanted, Lilly created a cost-effective, worldwide talent pool on which they could draw.
Innovative companies are "skipping the big problem" in order to concentrate on the real problem. If, for instance, they want to bring telecommunications systems to developing countries, the problem would seem to be the expensive and hassle of laying cables and creating infrastructure.
They skip this and go straight to the core: how can we get people connected? The answer, then, becomes clear: go wireless.
Remember, as Burrus writes, "The real problem lies hidden behind the distraction of what you think the problem is." Skipping it allows you to identify, and solve, the real problem.
Attacking the Real Problem
How do you know if your biggest problem is, in fact, your biggest problem?
- Think back to the answer you gave to the opening question: what's the biggest problem you're facing? Hold it up and look at it from different angles. What would happen if you skipped it?
- Don't get stuck; move forward. Often, trying to solve a problem is like trying to drive out of mud. The more you push that accelerator, the deeper you sink. So, stop. Forget what you think the problem is; that frees the core issue to come to the surface.
- Peel the onion. Your perceived problem is the top layer of the onion. Ask, "Why is that a problem?" When you discover an answer, ask, "Why is that a problem?" Keep peeling away until you get to the core.
- Don't try to solve everything at once. Focus on one issue at a time. As Burrus suggests, keep peeling the onion until you get to one problem.
- Look at your legacy systems. Would it be best to let these go and move into the future now? For instance, the One Laptop per Child project aimed to provide every kid in underprivileged areas with a $100 laptop. Laudable - but budget is a problem. Or is it? Skip money. The problem is giving children access to the Internet and learning. Which can be done with a much cheaper cellphone. Problem - real problem - solved.
Every business, and every leader, faces complex challenges. What's yours? When you identify it, skip it. What's the real problem?