Do They Want to Solve the Problem?

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It can be hard to decipher whether people want to truly solve the problem you are thinking. But that first question can save a lot of trouble in projects, relationships and business if you can get what people want.

Solving the problem you are thinking matters may not be the priority. In your work with others, they may want something else instead:

  • To look good in front of their boss
  • Documentation to cover for their ____
  • A feeling of importance
  • Feeling secure just in case
  • Their gain your pain
  • Ideas and strategies they can claim as their own
  • Appearing busy

Listen carefully and observe your customer or the team you are working with. The clues in behaviors, inaction, focus and interchange can reveal what really matters and whether solving the problem is really what matters.

Then it’s up to you to figure out if you want to give them what they really want or bow out.

If you are not making progress in your work with someone, think about that simple, question, “Do they really want to solve the problem?” It can save you a lot of wasted energy and grief.

Don’t Limit Yourself


Too often we are mired in the circumstance we chose thinking we are limited. This is not necessarily so. You can always choose differently, and that is the opportunity to grow and become bigger than your circumstance.

Perhaps you hate your job, your life or even a bad deal you are currently in. The stress of it has you in a vortex of emotions. It can be overwhelming.

But, one of the best strategies is to start moving. Create more options. Become a person that creates again, rather than resigns to what you have. If you hate your job, move to action and find three more gigs that could be more promising.

If you want a more fun life, start looking at new locations.

Creating more options and continuing to move forward is something that is in your control. You are not limited by anything but your choices. Choose differently and make yourself better.

Eliminate All Those Failure Points and Get Results


It’s hard enough to get results when the world is set up against you with adversity, obstacles and high hurdles. Furthermore, it is so easy to let in a thousand distractions, commitments and assets that contribute little or nothing to your goals.

I can remember getting offered so many credit card deals back in college. It was new and I never had a credit card. I ended up signing up for too many and learning the hard way what easy money could do to my peace of mind. I let a failure point enter into my life and I had to put in a disproportionate amount of time, energy and attention to get the debt out of my life.

These days, it’s so easy to let in failure points that pull us away from getting results. Some examples that easily sneak in:

  • Business applications. So easy to sign up, start a trial and forget about it. What’s happened to all those logins and what did you sign up for?
  • Bank accounts. How many do you need? Each one has to be watched and cared for. And we know bankers are salespeople with a title. They get incentives for opening up a new, meaningless checking or savings account for you. Good for them. Meaningless for you.
  • Credit cards. Again, how many do you need? It’s debt. It’s temptation. What’s in your wallet owns your peace of mind.
  • Bad deals. Working with people you don’t like or on projects that are outside your sweet spot don’t tend to turn out well. It’s a force fit. Your lack of enthusiasm clouded simply by a desire for money ends up frustrating you and your client. It’s not worth it.
  • Drain people. The world is filled with irrational players. Letting them have a place in your life and mind because you don’t discern what a good relationship looks like leaves a failure point open.
  • Unhealthy habits. Sleeping, eating and exercise are critical for our well-being and performance. Can you actually see what is happening inside your body over time? Unhealthy habits become a ticking time bomb that can wreak havoc in your life if you are indiscriminate about how you manage your choices.
  • Complexity. When you have a choice between a simple setup or life and then choose complexity in all its forms, you are creating stress. Why be stressed? This thing you built called your life can be designed in so many ways. But you do have to be intentional.

Frankly, I could go on for a while. There are myriad ways to complicate your life and create a new front to manage every day. Each of those commitments, which I bet are largely from passivity, become failure points.

Your unchecked accounts can suffer from fraud or hacking. Your relational commitments can become toxic, and you now have giant knots you have to untangle. Your business can be mired with so many steps and processes just to get service to your customers.

It’s not worth it. Drama people may like the thrill of dealing with things that don’t matter or add little to winning in their lives. However, it’s simply wasteful and stressful.

Failure points are lurking under the surface of your life and create pent up catastrophes. And it’s hard for our human nature to celebrate what didn’t happen. The heroics of overcoming something that did happen always shines as the heralded story in contrast.

But if you have a little motivation and see the wisdom in eliminating and preventing failure points in your life and business then two things to integrate into your approach:

  1. Audit your commitments
  2. Develop the habit of discretion

Take a look across all your accounts, commitments, assets, etc. What contributes to your goals? What are your goals? Get clear. Get a list going and start getting rid of those things that don’t matter to your results you desire.

You can do this in bite-size approaches. Simply get rid of one failure point a day.

Then, when new opportunities, offers, products, etc. present themselves, notice your response. Are you tempted? Do you have high emotion and eagerness?

Learn to say, “No.” Keep your life simple and avoid anything new for a few months. You may have withdrawal pains, but that is your psyche transitioning to a new mindset and approach to work and living.

There are so many traps out there that can snag your peace of mind. Think of yourself as a manager of your affairs that looks out for your own well-being. You are giving yourself a gift by avoiding failure points that can backfire towards your well-being and goals. The point of life is to live, not be encumbered by the snares of life.

Create More Options and Stop Working Harder


When you are not getting the results you want, is it better to try harder or diversify your options? While there are myriad circumstances, when the law of averages governs the game you are playing, more options, attempts and scenarios can be a strategic move.

Instead of working hard on one relationship build a hundred more with different people.

Instead of trying to make one market or channel work, test others to uncover more opportunities.

Instead of putting everything in one employee’s responsibility, load balance and create redundancies with several team members.

The strategy fits situations where working harder with determination has diminishing returns. And instead of getting locked into less optionality you can open up more channels for opportunity and feedback. You mitigate risk and get to look at what percolates from diversification.

In addition, you can add the hard work and number of attempts into your new options to see what outcomes will produce results.

When I was a kid, I played a lot of sports. Some came easier than others. At some point, I had diminishing returns playing baseball. I put in hours and hours throwing, catching and batting. But I could easily see how teammates had better results for their efforts. It didn’t discourage me, but even as a young kid, I could tell I had an upper limit.

I went on to other sports with some successes and some mediocrity. But trying a lot of them and testing for what I could get out of myself gave me perspective on what would work for me, much like many other youngsters discover.

Eventually, I found that distance running fit. I got results from putting work in. Not my first pick of sports, but I had to go with what worked and I made that my bread and butter sport through high school and college at the expense of other sports. It was worth it to me for the work I was going to put in.

There’s a world of options we can easily get overwhelmed by out there.

A platform that your customers interact on would make for the best use of your time, for example.

A group of friends can be much more fun and rewarding than other social groups with different tastes.

And if you find yourself getting stuck, merely working harder, then how about taking that energy, time and focus to diversify far and wide? Use that strategy to create new momentum and insights that help you get out of the rut. Going wide can create new energy and opportunity in contrast to simply pushing deeper into things you are comfortable doing.

This is especially true for things that used to work in a different era and don’t work as well anymore.  The better strategy is to diversify and open up new channels you may not have considered. Do it at the expense of what you already know or are accustomed to.

Ultimately, you are giving yourself better probabilities of finding higher returns of your time, money and attention.

What do you need to stop working harder at and go wider with instead?

Build Something: Integrate Technologies For Agility

IntegrateBuilding something from scratch used to be necessary.  When mass production and interchangeable parts took root and the industrial age was spawned, we integrated hardware.  This was an effective way to get to the goal instead of fretting about each nut, bolt and circuit.

We moved this thinking to the white collar office space and lined up paper and information to flow with efficiency.  Working in large teams with interchangeable data and information systems rewarded us with speedy production and greater levels of management and control.

The great thing about the collective work in the new economy is that fundamental technologies do not have to be built.  They merely need to be assembled.  The innovator’s job is less focused on tool making and can instead be channeled to creativity, strategy and getting things done.

Integration And Innovation

If you are seeking to bring a new product or service to market, here are some important strategies so you do not have to reinvent the proverbial wheel:

  • Make good deals.  You are wanting to bring other people’s technologies to contribute to an end goal of your design.  Be sure that the licensing, software, pricing and overall deal are not risk to what you build later. If HP has to worry about whether its print engines are going to be available for production in a year, it’s a risk.
  • Ensure continuity. Your enabling technologies should be viable ongoing without surprise.  The safe bet is to pick the winner in the category. Whether it is a chip maker, motor manufacturer or software developer, make sure there are contingencies and a plan for continuity to serve your system and customers.
  • Accommodate customization. If you can choose technologies which are open as a platform, it allows for customizations later. This can be an API or editing procedure. Getting a system to work for your goal may mean tweaking a small part. Be sure the small part is easy to access and works robustly.
  • Reinforce your brand. Your brand is what the customer experiences. Your enabling technologies should promote your brand, nothing less. Licensing, white labels and business agreements can all reinforce your brand.

Nothing will last as designed. Things change quickly and if you design your systems with change in mind, you can remain agile as new demands arise.

When I work with entrepreneurs or organizations on building systems, these are important strategies which create a robust market offering.  I hope they help you as well in building something great we can all benefit from.

What do you think?

Gaining Clarity From A Fresh Perspective

In working with clients I have often found problems hit roadblocks because of a lack of perspective.  Being too close to a problem such as stunted business growth, poor sales strategy or low customer loyalty may be something that is hard to see.

Our own blind spots can cause us to miss answers or be willing to see them.  Here are some I often see:

  • Paradigm shifts.  If the world is continually changing around us and we have been used to doing things a certain way, our lack of growth catches up.  We resist change or anything that sniffs of innovation.
  • Personal relationships.  We may become too dependent or have some strong pull to dysfunctional working relationships.  Choosing such relationships over results can often prove difficult to overcome and have to be brought to light.
  • Knowing the goal.  Asking a simple question, “What is the goal?” brings clarity when ambiguity may reign.  A perspective which spotlights the goal is invaluable to focus actions and next steps.
  • The curse of knowledge.  When we are so familiar with our problems as well as all the technicalities of our business, we can become near-sighted.  We know too much and this can prevent us from thinking more broadly about our problems.
  • Lack of urgency.  Our emotions help to drive us to action.  If we don’t have urgency it is because we are not emotionally bought in yet.  Inspiration is important for change to occur.  Getting real about what should happen and the reason behind it is important to move us forward in making things happen.

As an advisor, much of what I do is provide fresh perspectives addressing the obstacles which can muddy clear thinking.  Reframing the problem in terms of stories, metaphor and anecdote can help to move a discussion to new decisions and clear actions.

The value of a fresh perspective pays immense dividends.  You can get clarity and get things done.

Can you recall times when a fresh perspective has helped you see a problem differently?

Ideas Need Strategy

Creativity, ideas and visioning are all highly enjoyable parts of business.  They allow for growing the frontiers of our realities and opening new possibilities and revenue streams.  When I am working with a client, there is typically a problem to solve, and we strive to create a solution which is feasible in concept and practice.

Ideas need strategy to make them reality.  Here are some ways I drive strategy within the context of consulting engagements to help ideas become real:

  • Define the problem.  It is difficult to know what success looks like without a clear definition of the problem.  The problem needs to be clearly articulated.  Dull pain is not adequate.  An acute, precise and descriptive problem frames what we are trying to solve.
  • Identify the obstacles.  Something keeps current reality from changing.  Is it money, authority, inefficiency or laziness?  There could be many reasons.  Obstacles can be overcome if we can aim straight at them.
  • Map it all visually.  I partner with Mindjet, the leading mindmapping software.  I have created thousands of hours of visual maps to help lay out everything to be considered around a problem.  The impacts, relationships and perspective always bring clarity, especially in real-time consulting sessions.  The results create immense clarity.
  • Probe deeply.  Asking clarifying questions which reveal further color to the problem is important before offering solutions.  It is likely that there have been past attempts to solving problems.  I like to gather the lessons learned and ensure that we integrate past failures into our approach.
  • Lay out the options.  Whether there are systems, process, people and technologies that can solve the problem, it has to build a picture.  Connecting those dots starts with presenting the options.  Often, there is not a silver bullet.  An integration of several pieces needs to come into play, especially for more complex problems.
  • Present a strategy.  The overall goal is ultimately an answer and a commitment.  It is the answer to the problem that has been well-defined.  It is a commitment to move forward with energy and resources to changing reality.  The strategy has to be clear.  I may present this in a variety of ways depending on my audience.  The goal is to get agreement to move forward.

Strategy creates clarity which is highly empowering.  The magic then happens.  We can implement after the strategy has been agreed upon.  The problem is well-understood and there is a demand for the solution.  I will then move towards project management and implementation.  The strategy is the anchor to the entire endeavor.

There are many good ideas out there, and likely in your head.  If you find yourself persisting in problems without resolution, perhaps these elements can help you clarify and attack your problems.

What areas of your business could you use a fresh strategy for?

Communicate When You Can’t Deliver

We live in an imperfect world where problems are always abundant.  Things just don’t work out the way we envision.  There are always obstacles.  Software breaks.  People disappoint.  Systems fail.

I can accept the mishaps common in project work.  There are a lot of things that cannot be controlled, especially working with people and systems.  The art of getting things done and delivering takes leadership from everyone involved.  Ultimately, I am hired for my leadership to clarify the goal and how to get there.  Getting there in reality means overcoming continual obstacles.

When I am the customer, whether internally with my team, or with vendors, I have a major expectation that I believe is quite reasonable.  I expect communication.  If the schedule slips or there are problems, I need communication to help me make plans and adjust if I need to.

This is a problem today.  A lot of people check out.  Whether it is from a lack of character or courage, I truly don’t care.  It’s a lack of professionalism and courtesy to not communicate.  Communication is about respect.  You are thinking about the other person, not yourself.  You are thinking about their needs and helping them not only emotionally, but also make plans as well.

When you can’t deliver, you can always communicate.  This is as much of a service delivery product as any other part of the experience.  Here are some tips on how to communicate effectively when you can’t deliver:

  • Name The Problem.  The problems we face may be simple or highly technical.  Do the hard work of translating the issue into something meaningful and helping the customer understand what the problem is.  It shows you are deep into the issue and you understand it thoroughly.  It helps your customer take comfort that you know the issue and are pushing.
  • Say What You Have Done.  We relate to stories.  This is the middle part of a story.  You have a problem.  What have you done so far?  This frames context and allows your customer to appreciate the work put forth and that you care.
  • Present The Options.  Articulate what the choices for success are.  Should you continue?  Research?  Quit?  Help them understand the pros and cons of the options.  Do the homework.  Lead.
  • Set Direction.  Put some emotional skin  in the game and say, “If it were me, I would…”  Take a risk and put your stamp on it.  Or say that you are going to deliver by a certain date and communicate.  Set the next steps.
  • Apologize Sincerely.  If there was fault, admit it.  Speak plainly and say sorry.  Sincerity means you will make it right.  This can be a variety of ways.  Pay back in a way that makes sense.

I have used this approach multiple times because I take a lot of risk.  Take little risk and this is irrelevant.  Life is more controllable, but also small.

If you are going to go after things  and seek to delight customers, then your ability to communicate is just as important as your ability to deliver.  Develop this and watch your relationships and business grow.  The world is looking for what is real and authentic, not perfect.  Show you care and be professional.

How can this help you in your business?

Managing Talent Around The Goal

Businessmen ScreamingOne of the biggest headaches I hear from the business owners I work with is around managing talent.  Building effective systems can do wonders for a business.  For one, it creates predictability.  For another, it can keep headcount low, a major cost factor.

However, we need people to get things done.  They help create leverage if they are good.  They can also create heartache and pain for others (Check out The No Asshole Rule.  Fun read.) if they are bad.  People are fickle.  They largely act in self-interest.  Thus, most of their behaviors when it comes to work can be frustrating if your systems for management have gaps.

I have found that a lot of the gap comes from unclear expectations.  Start with this one premise: Owners and employees think about completely different things.  The owner mindset is about delivering to the customer and maximizing revenue.  The employee mindset wants to get paid and leave at 5 (try asking a cashier how their day is going and you will see).  Those are two different goals if left unchecked.

I use a few recurring questions to help lead people and get them on the same page.  Here are a few that can be helpful as you seek to manage talent:

  • “What is the goal?”  When you don’t sense the right commitment or effort, ask this simple question of your team members.  Ensure they tell you with conviction and it is the same as your goal.  If not, make sure they are clear.
  • “Tell me what you heard.”  Communication is often taken for granted.  People’s listening skills tend to be poor.  Test their understanding and ask them to articulate what they heard to ensure there is a good handoff.
  • “When?”  There may be ideas tossed around and big hopes and wishes proclaimed.  Use this one question to pinpoint a date.  Assign the date.  Make it an accountability point.  Remind.  People will get real fast or you will get results.  Attach concrete dates to ensure things get done with accountability.  Ensure your systems support your follow-up.
  • “If  you were me…?”  … what would you do?  … what would you be thinking? … how would you move forward?  Help your employees think like an owner.  Make your cares their cares.  Conversations can be highly circular if you don’t drive empathy.
  • “What are you going to tell the customer?”  Watch for how the responsibility “hot potato” is passed.  Leaders naturally take on responsibility.  For those that are about self preservation, give them responsibility, even if it is temporary.  You will see a difference quickly.

It is important that your sales, marketing and operations systems provide real-time accountability with clear metrics and goals. This is a cornerstone for effective management.  These questions can be transposed with metrics, documentation and follow-up.

Take yourself out of the equation and make the goal the main thing.  It is effective management and aligns talent with the goal.

What are some of the frustrations you have experienced in management?  How have you aligned your talent with the real goals?

Grow My Business – Start!

Starting or growing a business today is a great opportunity.  I hear a lot of dismay from customers and friends at the state of our down economy.  One thing is for sure: things are not the way they used to be, and they are not going back.

Richard Florida has an insightful and foretelling book called The Great Reset.  He examines impacts of geography and urban centers from the past industrial age and the transformative forces in the new economy for the information age.  Technology has enabled mobility.  We are fully on the journey as an information-based society.  The kinds of opportunities which exist across the board for entrepreneurs, microbrands and small businesses are more accessible today than in times past.  I would encourage you to order the book and soak it in.

I have found the hardest part of taking advantage of opportunities is starting.  It’s a decision motivated by desire and commitment. In my work with other entrepreneurs, there is a pathway which has been valuable to frame launching and starting new ventures.

Here are some ways to start or grow your business today:

  1. Pick your market carefully.  You have the same amount of time as everyone else.  The game of business is transforming your time into money.  The highest return opportunities are in businesses with “scale” and “magnitude.”  Scale refers to the number of iterations for making a sale.  A fast food chain is a “high scale” business.  There are a lot of transactions in a day.  Certain software products are like this as well.  Magnitude is about the price point.  Professional services are high magnitude businesses.  Each transaction is a high dollar cost.  Low scale and magnitude is not a good business opportunity.  Try things, but pick wisely.  Your time and passion go into what you ultimately pick.
  2. Get a real customer with a real problem.  This is the best way to start a business.  You are close to many problems.  Keep your eyes open and work with a real customer.  Getting customers is the number one priority of your business.  If you are tinkering with things that don’t matter yet, like elaborate systems noone has bought, then stop yourself.  Focus on getting customers.  Your first customers will teach you what your offering should be.  If you are fast, then pave the road ahead of them and keep their experience delightful.  You will end up with an offering that you can later package.
  3. Package your offering.  After your customers teach you what is valuable, focus on refining how you present, win and service your next customers.  Ensure your systems for the sales meeting, the proposal, the order and the delivery process do nothing short of delight.
  4. Automate and personalize.  Build systems which are repeatable.  Automate where it makes sense, and leave flexibility for a personal experience.  If you provide consulting, then ensure there are communications systems to help you be responsive.  However, you may also want to keep the personal touch and context around the projects you work on by sending timely notes.

These are a few important strategies for entrepreneurial success.  The hard work is in the details and the care of each touchpoint in the customer experience.  It is not a straight path.  Otherwise, everyone would do it.  Think of it as cracking a code which has a reward at the end of it if you picked a great market.

I have a book which I am working on called Build Something that you can sign up for here.  We live in great times, and if we can change ourselves to see the opportunities and take advantage of them, then freedom, wealth and enjoyment as well as perseverance allow us to pursue our dreams.

What would you like to build?