Nov 13, 2000

Let’s face it. In business, as in life, things don’t always go the way you want. There will be problems that you can anticipate, and there will be problems that you never expected. Either way, there will be problems, and you will need to deal with them. That’s why I want to share my thoughts on how to deal with the biggest, nastiest, hairiest, and scariest problems that come your way. Following is a problem-solving framework that I hope will be helpful to you. It’s not something I pulled out of a book, either! Step #1: Define the problem. Sometimes it’s not what you think it is at first blush. If you seek the answer to “X + Y,” you’ll never solve it if you’re working on “A + Z.” This is fundamental. Once you identify the actual problem, get it down in writing. Step #2: Test your definition. Talk to people. It’s the only way I know how to gain clarity on what the problem really is. Maybe someone else will add some new insight. Don’t be defensive or feel there’s something wrong with you if you discover that you didn’t have it right. Step #3: Redefine the problem. Now that you’ve solicited some other opinions and gained some new insight, restate the problem. Are you being specific enough? Step #4: Determine the desired outcome. This must be accomplished before you can develop alternative solutions. Most people don’t take this step, as obvious as it may appear. They define the problem and immediately seek solutions. But you cannot determine the best solution until you know the result you want to get. And again, it may be helpful to seek the guidance of others. Your fellow partners, your most insightful subordinates, your siblings, your friends, your spouse, and your mentors can all be helpful. Step #5: Develop alternatives. You’ve got one problem and one desired outcome, but multiple alternatives. Be wild. Don’t think about what won’t work too early in the process. Brainstorm ideas. Get them down in writing. Step #6: Refine the alternatives. Do this after letting them age a day or two (or an hour or two, if that’s all you’ve got). Step #7: Pick the alternative that appears most likely to lead to your desired outcome. Is there anything that would lead you to believe you’re being inconsistent in thinking that this alternative will result in what you want to happen? If so, rethink. Step #8: Implement. A very important step. You can define the problem, define the solution you want, and figure out how to solve it, but until you act, you have nothing. How did it work? Step #9: Reassess. Is the solution continuing to work? If not, repeat steps one through eight. Is this a perfect problem-solving format? Nope, it’s not. Some problems cannot be solved; others take many attempts to solve. Does it work most of the time? Yep, it does. Try this out sometime. Let me know how it goes. And best of luck to you all, for happy solutions to problems you are facing now, and those you will no doubt encounter in the future. Originally published 11/13/2000

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.