Problem Solver: The Number One Key to Successful Business

Ever notice how people love to point out problems but very seldom have any solutions? Even worse, if you have an original idea, well-meaning friends, family, and even colleagues and coworkers are quick to jump to the conclusion that it will never work, as supported by the 13 negative possibilities and outcomes that they just came up with.

I will admit I am a little frustrated after having another conversation today with a well-meaning colleague who pointed out all kinds of potential hurdles and issues I would have to overcome to succeed at my latest project. Of course, this colleague had little advice on how to overcome the potential hurdles. The conversation got me thinking: why is it so much easier for us to think negatively rather than positively? It seems to me that no great innovation has ever been born out of an attitude of negativity. The Wright brothers did not start off saying, “We will most likely never be able to fly but, what the hell, we have nothing else to do – let’s give it a try.” Thomas Edison did not create the modern light bulb by trying to prove that it could not be done.  We did not master space flight by putting the top scientists into a room to brainstorm all the reasons why we should not send men to the moon.  Could you imagine if you were on Apollo 13 and you get a call back from the engineers, “Sorry guys, but all you have is some duct tape and a couple of tubes? You’re screwed. Any last words?”

The point is that life as we know it has not been changed or saved by naysayers and problem seekers (those who just walk around pointing out all the issues in the world). Change comes from problem solvers, people willing to believe that just because it did not work in the past or just because the situation looks dim does not mean it is the end of the road. To a problem solver, the end of the road simply means you’d better get a backhoe and clear a new path. While problem seekers sit and complain about the immovable boulder in the way, problem solvers start looking for the dynamite. They understand that a huge problem is not that hard to overcome if you blow it up into a bunch of manageable pieces and start shoveling away the debris.

As a college professor and as a business consultant, I get asked a lot what the key to success is. There is only one answer: be a problem solver. Help people solve their problems and you will always be in demand. This may seem cliché, but think about how many times in a day you approach issues as a problem seeker versus a problem solver. It is easy to point out problems, (anyone can do that) but it takes careful thought, due diligence, and a strong resolve to be a problem solver. It is these characteristics that set successful people apart from the rest of us wannabes.

One last thing – surround yourself with problem solvers and dump all the problem seekers around you. Misery loves company and there is nothing more destructive than a group of problem seekers getting together to try and find the path of least resistance to success. There is no such thing. A new business, a new idea, or just a new project will always include issues that you have to overcome. We need to recognize the issues so that we are prepared to overcome them, but far too often we just stop at the first part. We think that we are prepared because we have pointed out all the issues, but without solving the problems, all we have done is set ourselves up for failure.

Because of this, I have a new rule: anyone who wants to point out a problem to me must also be ready to propose a solution. Be a problem solver at any given point and you’ll be amazed at the change in your outlook and success.