29 August, 2017

An introduction to problem solving

If you’re feeling a bit out-at-sea when it comes to problem solving, fear not… our trusty lighthouse keeper is here to help you navigate the shoreline.

Getting started

It’s only natural to feel a little doubt about what you’re doing when you start your business and take those first few steps. At the Hoxton Mix we think one of the things that will really help you gain confidence in your early stages is figuring out how to solve problems.

Believe it or not, no new business owner has it all figured out at the start, in fact often not even close. So you’re in good company. But what we find with many of the most successful entrepreneurs is their ability to solve problems. In fact, that’s why at the top levels you might even hear of businesses “pivoting” and seemingly going off to do something completely different to when they started out. Often they’ve seen how their business is struggling and figured out what needs to change to keep the boat afloat, and sometimes that even means some pretty extreme changes.

So don’t be afraid of change or figuring out problems, we all have to go through it. Here’s our starter guide to helping you understand the basics of problem solving so you can feel more confident knowing that if something unexpected arises, you can handle it!

Understanding the problem

In one of our previous posts, we talk about using feedback from customers to understand what problems there are. Listening to your customers to figure out what’s not working is one of the best sources of information you can have. And if you’re able to get your customers to talk candidly about this, you’ll have enough information to define your problem and then move on to the next stage. Of course, not all problems are seen by your customers but whether it’s an internally or externally seen issue, do your best to articulate what the outcome is that you were aiming for but not reaching and what you think it is that’s holding back that desired outcome.

Focus on the solution not the problem

Ok, you’ve noted what the problem is and can largely define it but now the danger is that we stay obsessing over the problem itself. But as we do this, our thinking can become narrowed and negative. Instead, once you know what the problem is, start to focus your attention on finding a solution.

There are two steps to this.

  1. Imagine what a positive outcome looks like.
  2. From your imaginary solved position, work backwards to figure out each of the main steps you need to take to get there. A bit like join-the dots in reverse.

As part of this you can ask yourself “What if?” questions, using your imagination to create a successful outcome. To do this we need to change our thinking a little. Instead of asking “negative” questions, ask yourself positive outcome questions. For example, rather than:

– “Why won’t this work?”

– “What’s wrong with me/this?”

– “It’s not working!”

Start to ask things like:

– “What does this look like if everything is working?”

– “What would happen if [x] was true?”

– “Imagine if we tried it this way…”

– “What could we do to make this better?”

Think like a scientist…

Finally, one of the most debilitating issues when we’re faced with a problem is that we’re often fearful of making a mistake or “getting it wrong”. But if you think about problem solving like a scientist, you can start to enjoy thinking about it as an experiment instead of being focused on failure.

In a science experiment, if we disprove a hypothesis, we don’t think of the experiment as a failure (even if you wanted the hypothesis to be true). In fact we think of the experiment as a success because we now have more information about the topic.

So the nature of an experiment is such that if you get a result that helps you understand where you are/stand in the landscape, then you have information that helps you to continue moving forward. And that’s what we’re looking for. Eventually as you continue to run experiments and test hypotheses you’ll get more and more feedback, hopefully enough to make it safely to your destination. All that’s needed is a willingness to experiment and a desire to keep trying.


So in closing, don’t forget these key ideas:

  • We need to be flexible and willing to change.
  • We can’t expect to get a different result if we just continue doing things the same old way.
  • You don’t need to fear mistakes if you think about your business process as an experiment.
  • And above all, when faced with problems, imagine what the solution looks like and then work backwards to find your pathway there.

About The Hoxton Mix

If you’re looking for a way to save money when looking for an office, check out our cheap virtual office at the Hoxton Mix. And if you’ve already grown to the point of being able to bring on support staff, it’s worth considering our virtual receptionist service so you only pay for what you use rather than a full time salary.

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