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How Entrepreneurs Can Solve the World's Biggest Problems We can play a sizable a role in helping restore order with a number of global issues.

By Lucas Miller • Jun 18, 2020

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

We live in truly tumultuous times. Social distancing, stock-market roller coasters and the suspension of business operations nationwide have created an uncertain atmosphere , to say the least. Meanwhile, climate change, income inequality, racial unrest and other issues continue to manifest anxiety, fear and even anger for many.

While these problems can seem overwhelming, history has repeatedly taught us that there is no reason to lose hope. People have consistently found solutions to the world's biggest problems — and entrepreneurs are often at the forefront.

In many ways, today's technology and resources give entrepreneurs greater opportunity than ever before to help confront our societal ills, daunting though they may seem. Here are just few examples how.

Increased Global Collaboration

Our global society is more interconnected than ever before. Even before 2020, global markets were concerned about how factory shutdowns in China would impact the global supply chain. However, increased globalization also creates new collaborative opportunities that give entrepreneurs access to greater resources for addressing major problems.

For example, a case study from the World Economic Forum noted how food manufacturer Africa Improved Foods wanted to address malnourishment in Rwanda . Local stakeholders received input from public and private-sector leaders in the United Kingdom, Brazil and the Netherlands to determine how best to produce fortified products that would address the country's malnourishment issues.

Global collaborations allow entrepreneurs to get input from other cultures and communities in ways that would have been impossible only a few decades ago.

Related: Why Collaboration Is Essential to Entrepreneurship

Smarter Technological Solutions

By leveraging the resources others have developed or coming up with their own tech products, entrepreneurs can create new solutions that more efficiently solve common problems.

This became abundantly clear during a recent email conversation with Damian Merlak, co-founder of NGEN . "Even something as seemingly simple as app development can improve the flexibility, scalability and redundancy of a problem-solving solution," he explained, continuing that, "Real-time data collection, remote access, more efficient energy production — all of these can serve as a jumping-off point for developing more effective solutions that reach a wider number of people. Finding new ways to use the technology that is available can unlock amazing innovations."

Many of today's tech solutions don't just help entrepreneurs innovate with new products and services — they also make it easier to keep a business running smoothly. Cutting costs and automating mundane tasks will leave you with more time to focus your efforts on important problem-solving initiatives.

Finding Social Impact Anywhere

We live in a time when an increasing number of people want to know that the companies they do business with are having a positive impact on the world. As just one example, a 2015 Nielsen study found that brands with "a demonstrated commitment to sustainability" grew 4 percent year over year, compared to less than 1 percent growth for their competitors.

This reflects consumers' increased desire to buy from brands that have a positive impact on society. Entrepreneurs are innovators, and as such, brands in practically every niche have been able to find ways to make a difference.

For example, a BCG report notes how Mars Incorporated partnered with nonprofit agencies to certify small-scale cocoa farmers to improve human rights and the environmental impact of cocoa farming. Not what you'd expect from a candy bar maker, but proof that all brands can find ways to make an impact for good.

A Problem-Solving Mindset

While today's resources and opportunities can certainly help entrepreneurs solve the world's biggest challenges, nothing compares to the unique mindset shared by all entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are born problem-solvers, always looking for new and better ways to do things.

Writing for the Classy blog, Tori Callahan explains , "The most successful social entrepreneurs challenge themselves to be open-minded and approach problems with a filter that is void of established tendencies and stigmas. They are unconventional thinkers, not limited by the constraints of the systems in place, but instead challenge those systems with fresh ideas and techniques."

Callahan goes on to note that most entrepreneurs seek dramatic — not incremental — change. This mindset that embraces big goals and is willing to learn from failure is not for the faint-hearted. But it is what defines a successful entrepreneur. It is the key to using all available resources (or coming up with completely new tools) to drive innovative solutions to all kinds of problems.

Related: Small Businesses That Consider Social Impact Will See One to Their Bottom Line

As bleak as present circumstances can feel, this is no time for entrepreneurs to give up. You may be asked to "hunker down" physically, but that doesn't mean you can't keep working toward meaningful solutions that will improve our world as a whole. And few are better equipped for the challenge than an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Founder of Echelon Copy LLC

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How businesses can help solve society’s workforce problems

Businesswoman using laptop talk to colleagues about plan in video call meeting while working from home at living room.

We have all adapted quickly to remote working – these skills will be invaluable as roles continue to change in the future. Image:  Freepik.

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Stay up to date:, future of work, have you read, this is how we build a future-ready workforce for the post-covid world, 4 ways to reskill the global workforce – and this is where it’s already happening , why collaboration will be key to creating the workforce of the future.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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With more people than ever now working remotely it is essential that guidance, support and the opportunity for continuous development is provided digitally in order to strengthen capabilities, develop knowledge and ensure business growth.

GBS Corporate Training provide a range of digitally delivered, short courses, designed to meet specific learning and development needs through targeted learning and specialist facilitation. They are ideal to support every step of a person’s career journey.

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Corporate Problem Solving Skills can Advance your Career and your Business

Effective problem solving skills enable employees to analyse problems, identify problem severity and assess the impact of alternative solutions. management training designed to develop problem solving skills helps employees to work more efficiently with co-workers, customers, partners and suppliers..

Much of what managers do is solving problems and making decisions. Decision-making is a key role of a manager and leader. Some managers find this to be one of the most difficult tasks to perform. They have a fear of failure, and procrastinate mainly because they have a lack of a structured approach. One of two things usually happens; they either put off making the decision in the hopes that someone else will resolve the issue, or even worse, make a decision using a knee jerk reaction.

Businesses therefore fail because of poor problem solving, which is why the problem solving ability is a key skill that companies are looking for in the people they recruit or promote. Fortunately it is a skill that can be taught and GBS Corporate Training provide a range of  courses to help you improve your skills, or even gain a qualification in it.

"You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created." Albert Einstein

Effective problem solving skills enables employees to analyse problems, identify problem severity and assess the impact of alternative solutions.  Workplace training designed to develop problem solving skills helps employees to work more efficiently with co-workers, customers, partners and suppliers. Trained participants learn to use available resources to resolve issues in a constructive manner. Additionally, they practice reaching consensus by seeing a problem from a professional, not personal, perspective.

What is the evidence that problem solving is critical to business futures?

The shift to a more innovation-driven economy in the business world has been abrupt. The speed of change is driving the need for organisations to continually innovate, find new ways of working, new products, new solutions and move beyond problems to resolution quickly.

Technology can make life easier, but it can also make things more complicated. With the advances in Artificial Intelligence, big data and analytics, computers can certainly help in analysing issues, however, it is still down to employees to ask the questions that computers still cannot grasp.

In the current fast changing global economy, employers often identify common problem solving as crucial to the success of their organisations. For employees, problem solving can be used to develop practical and creative solutions and to show independence and initiative to employers. This means that the individuals within an organisation need to become more creative, innovative and less accepting of tried and tested methods. They have to be agile and resolve them before their competitors steal a march on their client base whilst the company tries to resolve its problems.

Adobe conducted a new study to understand how educators and policymakers think about creative problem solving skills, how critical these skills are to future jobs, and how they are currently being nurtured in schools today.

Adobe defined problem solving as follows “ Creative Problem Solving is the process of redefining problems and opportunities, coming up with new, innovative responses and solutions, and then taking action .”

Three quarters of the educators surveyed said that students need to develop these skills to protect their futures, as the professions that require creative problem solving are less likely to be impacted by automation. Also, almost 90 percent of respondents believe students who excel at creative problem solving will have higher-earning job opportunities in the future, and 85 percent agreed that these same skills are in high demand by today’s employers for senior-level and higher-paying careers.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) recently surveyed 350 executives across 9 industries in 15 of the world's biggest economies to generate their research report  The Future of Jobs . The report's intention was to predict how technological advancement will transform labour markets. In other words, how will technology impact employers, and therefore what they'll want from employees. They found that the number one skill that employers will need in their employees in the future is the problem solving ability. The report shows that 36% of all jobs across all industries will require complex problem-solving abilities as a core skill by 2020.

A new study by iCIMS found that recruiters place a higher value on soft skills. From an ability to communicate well to being organised, these intangible qualities can be tough to measure, but they affect everything from productivity to collaboration. The most important soft skill identified was the ability to solve problems, with 62% of recruiters seeking people who can find solutions. This soft skill was also found to be the most important for the employee who wants to work in management.

“ Your ability to solve problems and make good decisions is the true measure of your skill as a leader.” Brian Tracy

So what exactly is problem solving in the business context?

Problems are at the centre of what many people do at work every day. Whether you are solving a problem for a client (internal or external), supporting those who are solving problems, or discovering new problems to solve, the problems you face can be large or small, simple or complex, easy or difficult.

Problem-solving is a critical skill to have if you’re going to be a leader, and you need people with good problem solving abilities for your teams to be high performing.

Common problems can be found in all areas of our work, such as:

  • Conflict between teams or team members
  • Customer issues with the service or product produced
  • Processes that don’t work properly and you don’t know why
  • Making cost savings
  • Finding new customers
  • Launching a new service

New managers often try to solve problems and make decisions by reacting to them before they fully understand all of the possible factors. They feel that the quickness of a decision is more important than the long-term outcome. There are times when a quick decision is needed, however, most decisions are not needed immediately and you do in fact have the time to make the right decision.

That is the key: making the right decision . Be careful to not let decisions accumulate, or else you will have a backlog of both small and complex decisions to make. You need to find the perfect balance of knowing when to make quick and easy decisions on the fly, and when to take time with the complex decisions.

Often problems can and should be seen as opportunities. View problems as opportunities and mistakes as progress. This involves turning traditional thinking about problems upside down. With some creativity, problems can lead to opportunities; mistakes in problem solving can be progress toward achieving these opportunities.

So what makes a good problem solver?

An ability to adapt and move with changing technology, customer behaviour and the business landscape is essential to be able to recognise when your business needs to change and to react accordingly. To some, this comes naturally, but for others, it is a learning curve. A good problem solver has the ability to step back and think pragmatically and to avoid an emotional reaction to the issue.

Being a confident problem solver is really important to your success. Much of that confidence comes from having a good process to use when approaching a problem. With one, you can solve problems quickly and effectively. Without one, your solutions may be ineffective, or you'll get stuck and do nothing, with sometimes painful consequences.

When you help others overcome their problems by offering fast-track solutions your value as an expert automatically increases. It’s important to realise that being a problem solver isn’t just an ability; it’s a whole mind-set, one that drives people to bring out the best in themselves so be very clear on your direction.

In order to be effective at problem solving you are likely to need some other key skills, which include:

Creativity: Problems are usually solved either intuitively or systematically. Intuition is used when no new knowledge is needed - you know enough to be able to make a quick decision and solve the problem, or you use common sense or experience to solve the problem.

“ Problems are nothing but wake-up calls for creativity”. Gerhard Gschwandtner

More complex problems or problems that you have not experienced before will likely require a more systematic and logical approach to solve, and for these you will need to use creative thinking.

Team Working: Many problems are best defined and solved with the input of other people.

Emotional Intelligence: It is worth considering the impact that a problem and/or its solution has on you and other people. Emotional intelligence, the ability to recognise the emotions of yourself and others, will help guide you to an appropriate solution.

Decision Making: Problem solving and decision making are closely related skills, and making a decision is an important part of the problem solving process as you will often be faced with various options and alternatives.

Researching Skills: Defining and solving problems often requires you to do some research: this may be a simple Google search or a more rigorous research project.

Risk Management: Solving a problem involves a certain amount of risk - this risk needs to be weighed up against not solving the problem.

To be an effective problem-solver, you need to be systematic and logical at the same time. When you solve problems you help others make more effective decisions that can improve their personal or professional lives. And as you increase your problem-solving skills, you also increase your own confidence and value as an expert.

How should I approach my Problem Solving?

Problem-solving may seem straightforward at first glance, but there are many employees who stumble over one or more of the critical steps, failing to successfully resolve workplace issues.

You can use many different approaches to problem-solving, but you'll typically work through four distinct stages no matter what route you take. Understanding each step of the process will help you hone your problem solving skills to better serve you along your journey toward a smart, workable solution.

“If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.” Albert Einstein

In the early stages of problem-solving, you need to have strong observational skills. Rather than accepting issues at face value, you need to demonstrate lateral thinking and analytical abilities . These will help you properly assess what's going on and pinpoint the core cause of the issue. 

The stages of problem solving are:

1. Define the Problem: Identify the issue that you're dealing with. Observe the problem area closely to form a detailed image of what's wrong. Delve into and explore employee behaviour, workplace policies, and operating procedures. Keep your focus on the problem at this point, and resist the urge to define the problem in terms of a solution.

2. Brainstorm Alternatives: This is one of the most important stages of problem-solving. It requires a careful balance of creativity and logical thinking. Compare all possible alternatives. Calculate the cost, time, and resources necessary for each approach as well as the return that you can expect from various strategies.

3. Choose the Best Strategy: Strong decision-making is essential at this stage. After carefully considering all your options, you must select the best strategy for your problem and stick with your choice. Employees who waver or struggle to commit to a single plan don't make good problem solvers because they get stuck at this essential point in the process.

4. Implement Your Solution: Implementation is the critical peak of the problem-solving process. This is where you draw up an action plan, share it with the appropriate personnel, and follow through with your chosen approach.

As you explore potential solutions to the issue, you must demonstrate persistence. Finding the right approach to the issue won't come easily. Innovative thinking will serve you well. Implementing your solution requires a careful balance of teamwork and leadership. You'll need to demonstrate resilience to withstand inevitable pushback from co-workers who resist change.

Honing your Problem-Solving Skills

Problem-solving skills are important in every industry. There's no business that's immune to the regular onslaught of problems. Using established tools and techniques will help you improve your approach to solving problems that you, your team and your organisation face. You will become more successful at solving problems and therefore more successful at what you do. What’s more – you will be able to build a reputation as someone who can handle tough situations, in a wise and positive way.

GBS Corporate Training offer a range of  Problem Solving Training  courses which help you make problem solving one of your core and essential skills. You will learn a systematic process for problem solving; understanding and resolving them. The tools introduced will help you to problem solve much more effectively.

Our  Problem Solving Training is highly practical and has been designed for anyone in a managerial role and for teams that need to resolve problems or find new and better ways of achieving their goals.

You can work with GBS to learn the 8 Disciplines of Problem Solving (8D ) . On this course, you will learn skills to help you gain a clear understanding of the problem faced, and the most appropriate problem solving methodology to follow.

There are a variety of problem solving methods used throughout business today, most of which use a team based approach. However to gain their maximum potential the selected approach needs to be correctly applied and managed. Quite often teams will be tasked to resolve a particular problem only to have the project stall or take longer than anticipated.

On our PT205 – Managing Problem Solving course, you will learn the skills such as understanding team roles, team dynamics, engagement methods and facilitation skills needed to effectively solve problems. This course provides an excellent foundation in the methodologies and tools commonly used in problem solving activities today.

Completion of two of our Practitioner level courses ) including PT205 – Managing Problem Solving course, together with demonstrable work experience, can lead to the gold standard Chartered Quality Professional (CQP) status, which is recognised alongside other roles with Chartered status.

So, not only can you learn about problem solving, but GBS offers you a route to a qualification in the field, making you an even more valuable asset to your organisation.

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12 Problems In The Workplace And Their Easy Solutions

We spend almost one-third of our adult lives at work, and workplace issues always cause stress to us.

An ideal workplace doesn’t exist where there is no conflict , and everyone’s roles fit together.

Some of these issues go beyond the control and causes negative psychological symptoms.

12 Real Problems In The Workplace – Try These Solutions

Either employee is underpaid or overworked. A micromanager boss who behaves more like a jerk or bullying coworkers makes it hard to get work done.

Whatever the situation is, it’s about what you do to address the problem that matters. Here are some of the common workplace problems, and you might be suffering from one of them.

1. Working With Bad Bosses

Most common problem that forces people to leave their job is bad bosses. A bad boss won’t let you live in peace.

You can get along with all of the other problems at work somehow. But being productive and successful is not possible when you can’t get along with your boss .

There’s plenty of bad bosses , and you’d find different types out there. You might be working with a micromanager currently. But in your next position, you get a boss who’s hard to be found.

Bad Bosses Have Always Been A Big Problem

Or you just simply suffer from an employer mismatch. In that case, your manager can be a good person, but you two can’t get along for some other reason.

This problem is hard to solve. You can try to better your communication with the boss. Try to be a bit more proactive and see if it works.

But if nothing works and the bad boss continues to be bad, you should consider quitting .

2. Not Enough Raises

There’s high competition in the job market, but the wages haven’t reached the prerecession levels.

It makes the employer still do out those 3% raises, which isn’t enough now.

Most people can quit their job because of mini-raises and find a way to bigger paychecks.

But there are also people out there who don’t have the option of quitting. That’s why they stick to their lower-paying jobs for no reason.

Having No Raise In Salary Demotivates People

If you think that you aren’t getting a pay raise, you can quit the job and look for a new one.

But you need to do your homework before you hand in your resignation letter. Is your next job really going to pay you more?

Suppose there’s a doubt you should wait for a better option. If not, then gather the courage to take this risk.

3. Workplace Bullying Is A Major Problem

Hearing the word bullying takes you back to school memories where it happened to kids. But bullying can affect you for your whole life.

What does workplace bullying look like? Bullying shows up in different forms. It can be worse, like verbal abuse or subtle, like getting excluded from teamwork.

Problems In The Workplace

The real deal is when it happens to you, you can’t shake it off. Even if you are the person who doesn’t care what others do or say, you’ll get affected.

You can deal with workplace bullying by acknowledging it. Document the bullying so you can report to higher management if necessary.

Also, document your performance so that you can have proofs. Take care of yourself outside the work.

Talk to someone in HR or your direct manager. They will take action according to workplace policies.

4. Workplace Discrimination – Problems In The Workplace

Workplace discrimination against protected categories like age, gender, race is illegal. But organizations do it anyway.

Other forms of discrimination are even harder to fight. For instance, mentioning black people they lack motivation or are too much aggressive .

Discriminating Against Protected Classes Is An Issue

Workplace discrimination is subtle as compared to the former days. So it will be harder for you to pinpoint what you’re experiencing exactly.

If you think it’s discrimination, review the company’s employee handbook. Follow the policies that are in place for workplace discrimination.

Then you can decide whether you should pursue a formal complaint or not.

5. Inadequate Motivation

Every individual can feel motivated towards his job. But the problem arises when we forget that motivation is a two-way process.

Management doesn’t bother to look deep into what motivates their employees. And in return, employees give average results.

Insufficient Motivation Births Different Problems

Lack of rewards and incentives is a major reason for low motivation. When an employee doesn’t get appreciated for what he did, he won’t try harder next time.

In such a state, the team needs motivation and encouragement. Being a manager, you can motivate them to perform their best.

Eliminate the communication problems and find out what makes them motivated.

Distribute an anonymous survey and get honest answers from employees about their problems.

Work with your management team to decide rewards that drive people to work harder.

6. Lack Of Training

A company should train employees to take on new responsibilities when business grows.

It’s mandatory so that the company doesn’t miss the opportunities coming its way.

Insufficient training leads to frustration or burnout in employees . Because they are unaware of the skills required to excel in the new roles.

An employer can’t expect his employees to figure out their jobs on their own. He will have to lead and train them for new challenges.

Employees Face Problems When They Do Not Get Enough Training

Ask each of your employees to tell you what they are struggling with. It will be good to bring in effective HR consulting services.

Or you can have a development trainer who’ll do the job right. These professionals will analyze what skills your employees lack.

Then devise the training programs accordingly and get them on the path of success .

7. Insufficient Technology Or Equipment

Small businesses are comparatively easy when it comes to deciding where to invest. But large businesses have so many factors to consider.

They prefer to hire new employees rather than updating the equipment. But sooner or later, the effects of outdated equipment will be visible.

Employees’ work will suffer due to slow systems and lack of equipment. As a result, their motivation and performance will also get affected.

A company should invest in new equipment instead of forcing the staff to engage in problem-solving.

Communicate with your employees about what they need to do their jobs better. Do some research on the latest technology.

Create a budget for new purchases and install the latest technology for convenience.

8. Overloaded Work – Problems In The Workplace

If you have a quite long to-do list, then you’re facing one of the most common workplace problems. You have too much to do and no time to do it in.

If you’re already a perfectly organized person, your next step might be to get your boss in the loop.

Problems In The Workplace

Your manager is responsible for helping you get done with your work . But if he isn’t doing so, then you have to deal with the pile of work yourself.

That’s what gives rise to many other issues like work-life balance, stress or anxiety.

You’ll have to confess to your manager what issues you’re facing directly.

If you’re avoiding this subject on your one-on-one meeting because of fear, it’s time to rethink.

When you bring a problem to your manager, you expect him to provide you with a solution. However, if you don’t like his solutions, you should go to him with some suggestions.

9. No Room To Grow

If your company is small, there would be no chances for people to move out or move on.

However, people want to progress and move forward in their career . For different reasons, you can’t quit or find a brand new job.

No Upward Career Mobility Is A Problem

A company where there are no new opportunities is a problem in itself. If you can’t quit and there are no promotions on the way , then you can do a few things.

Make sure that you don’t stop growing as an individual. Learn and add new skills to your list.

Attend networking events and catch up with former coworkers and friends. Find new projects at work and volunteer for meaningful causes.

10. A Major Problem Is a Poor Communication

Lack of communication makes people insecure about a situation. They think that they don’t have enough information to make good decisions .

That’s what happens when there’s not enough communication in the workplace.

When management starts being secretive, it causes discomfort in the staff. Employees wonder what the company is up to. Are they going to get fold of? Do they have layoffs around the corner?

Lack of communication creates too many confusions. The staff thinks that the manager doesn’t trust them with the important information.

Problems In The Workplace

It all makes the organization disorganized and inefficient. Being bad at communication is not always intentional. Some people are naturally good at communication than others.

Overcoming poor communication is not that difficult. Managers should encourage their direct reports to give feedback on their performance .

Soliciting, embracing and acting upon the feedback will improve the communication.

Train the employees to do the same and make the situation better.

11. High-Stress Work Environment – Problems In The Workplace

A little bit of stress is helpful to perform better, but too much stress can be detrimental. It leaves a negative impact on employees and causes problems in the workplace.

There are jobs out there that are naturally high-stressed. For instance, working in a hospital emergency room keeps you in a life-death situation.

However, in most workplaces, that’s the managerial style that induces stress. Competitive work cultures are a good example, employees get told to do whatever they can to beat their others.

The pressure of competing with coworkers and managerial pressure can be very stress-inducing.

High Stress At Work Is Also A Problem

Introduce a healthy competitive environment at the workplace. Train the employees to encourage one another rather than trying to win the race.

Develop a managerial style that is more of leadership and not authoritative. A leader will help your team to grow as a whole part of the company.

12. Poor Work-life Balance

A poor work-life balance is a problem that every employee suffers from. If you’re running a small business, your work must be getting blended with your personal life .

If you constantly think about work, it doesn’t mean that your employees should do the same. Instead of enjoying their personal time, you can’t expect them to work all the time.

No one can be available for the jobs at all hours of the day. If people don’t get the time off, their work will get affected.

Establish a good work-life balance and a culture that celebrates doing well at home and work.

Employees should answer the emails and work calls only during working hours.

Allow the employees to live their life the fullest and engage with their families.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you identify workplace issues.

If there's an issue in your employees' performance, identify it by examining past mistakes. Evaluate their engagement and make punctuality a priority. Find high-performing employees to replace old ones.

What Causes Problems In The Workplace?

High-stress levels are the major reason for causing problems at work. Pressure from above makes a job more stressful. Your boss feels the heat from her boss on productivity and gets the frustration out on you.

How Do You Deal With Problems At Work?

Be attentive towards your emotions and watch out how to respond in a conflict situation. Prepare yourself, listen, reflect and inquire about the problem. You should focus and work on what you can change.

What Is The Biggest Problem In Most Offices Today?

Problems with coworkers it can be employees, manager or the boss. There's an unwillingness to acknowledge these problems. Lack of integrity, inadequate training, and development issues are some other major problems.

Before you take a quick decision of leaving your job in a tight job market, try to make your current job work.

Workplace problems exist everywhere, and you’d have to deal with them on your own.

Pinpoint the problem, change the routine , take on responsibility, do an activity other than work.

If these issues don’t seem to get resolved, then it’s time to look for a new job.

If you experienced a problem in the workplace other than these mentioned above, share it with us. Leave a comment and tell us how you coped up with it.

Last Updated on 3 months by Aleena

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Purdue University

Effective Problem-Solving Techniques in Business

A business team discusses a problem in a conference room

January 20, 2023

Purdue Online

Problem solving is an increasingly important soft skill for those in business. The Future of Jobs Survey by the World Economic Forum drives this point home. According to this report, complex problem solving is identified as one of the top 15 skills that will be sought by employers in 2025, along with other soft skills such as analytical thinking, creativity and leadership.

Dr. Amy David , clinical associate professor of management for supply chain and operations management, spoke about business problem-solving methods and how the Purdue University Online MBA program prepares students to be business decision-makers.

Why Are Problem-Solving Skills Essential in Leadership Roles?

Every business will face challenges at some point. Those that are successful will have people in place who can identify and solve problems before the damage is done.

“The business world is constantly changing, and companies need to be able to adapt well in order to produce good results and meet the needs of their customers,” David says. “They also need to keep in mind the triple bottom line of ‘people, profit and planet.’ And these priorities are constantly evolving.”

To that end, David says people in management or leadership need to be able to handle new situations, something that may be outside the scope of their everyday work.

“The name of the game these days is change—and the speed of change—and that means solving new problems on a daily basis,” she says.

The pace of information and technology has also empowered the customer in a new way that provides challenges—or opportunities—for businesses to respond.

“Our customers have a lot more information and a lot more power,” she says. “If you think about somebody having an unhappy experience and tweeting about it, that’s very different from maybe 15 years ago. Back then, if you had a bad experience with a product, you might grumble about it to one or two people.”

David says that this reality changes how quickly organizations need to react and respond to their customers. And taking prompt and decisive action requires solid problem-solving skills.

What Are Some of the Most Effective Problem-Solving Methods?

David says there are a few things to consider when encountering a challenge in business.

“When faced with a problem, are we talking about something that is broad and affects a lot of people? Or is it something that affects a select few? Depending on the issue and situation, you’ll need to use different types of problem-solving strategies,” she says.

Using Techniques

There are a number of techniques that businesses use to problem solve. These can include:

  • Five Whys : This approach is helpful when the problem at hand is clear but the underlying causes are less so. By asking “Why?” five times, the final answer should get at the potential root of the problem and perhaps yield a solution.
  • Gap Analysis : Companies use gap analyses to compare current performance with expected or desired performance, which will help a company determine how to use its resources differently or adjust expectations.
  • Gemba Walk : The name, which is derived from a Japanese word meaning “the real place,” refers to a commonly used technique that allows managers to see what works (and what doesn’t) from the ground up. This is an opportunity for managers to focus on the fundamental elements of the process, identify where the value stream is and determine areas that could use improvement.
  • Porter’s Five Forces : Developed by Harvard Business School professor Michael E. Porter, applying the Five Forces is a way for companies to identify competitors for their business or services, and determine how the organization can adjust to stay ahead of the game.
  • Six Thinking Hats : In his book of the same name, Dr. Edward de Bono details this method that encourages parallel thinking and attempting to solve a problem by trying on different “thinking hats.” Each color hat signifies a different approach that can be utilized in the problem-solving process, ranging from logic to feelings to creativity and beyond. This method allows organizations to view problems from different angles and perspectives.
  • SWOT Analysis : This common strategic planning and management tool helps businesses identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT).

“We have a lot of these different tools,” David says. “Which one to use when is going to be dependent on the problem itself, the level of the stakeholders, the number of different stakeholder groups and so on.”

Each of the techniques outlined above uses the same core steps of problem solving:

  • Identify and define the problem
  • Consider possible solutions
  • Evaluate options
  • Choose the best solution
  • Implement the solution
  • Evaluate the outcome

Data drives a lot of daily decisions in business and beyond. Analytics have also been deployed to problem solve.

“We have specific classes around storytelling with data and how you convince your audience to understand what the data is,” David says. “Your audience has to trust the data, and only then can you use it for real decision-making.”

Data can be a powerful tool for identifying larger trends and making informed decisions when it’s clearly understood and communicated. It’s also vital for performance monitoring and optimization.

How Is Problem Solving Prioritized in Purdue’s Online MBA?

The courses in the Purdue Online MBA program teach problem-solving methods to students, keeping them up to date with the latest techniques and allowing them to apply their knowledge to business-related scenarios.

“I can give you a model or a tool, but most of the time, a real-world situation is going to be a lot messier and more valuable than what we’ve seen in a textbook,” David says. “Asking students to take what they know and apply it to a case where there’s not one single correct answer is a big part of the learning experience.”

Make Your Own Decision to Further Your Career

An online MBA from Purdue University can help advance your career by teaching you problem-solving skills, decision-making strategies and more. Reach out today to learn more about earning an online MBA with Purdue University .

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Want to solve the world’s problems? Try working together across disciplines

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Associate Professor of Psychology, Olin College of Engineering

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Professor of Anthropology, Olin College of Engineering

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Labor Day is our New Year’s Eve. Rather than vowing to lose weight or spend less time on our phones, as college professors we head into the new school year with a different kind of resolution: to inspire and prepare our students to become agents of positive change.

The world’s problems certainly didn’t take a break this summer, and we know that successfully addressing them depends on a mindset much broader than any one discipline can offer. Our strategy is to cultivate a way of thinking that blends insights from multiple perspectives.

As a psychologist , an anthropologist and an historian who teach at an engineering college, happily, we see examples of this kind of integration all around us.

Global climate change may be the biggest challenge facing humanity, and it is a problem that illustrates the world-changing implications of interdisciplinary problem-solving. In an analysis of the economic impact of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, experts at the consulting firm McKinsey & Company identified a spectrum of strategies and their associated costs. Options like converting to nuclear energy, shifting to electric vehicles, and retrofitting coal and gas plants all have great potential, but we can produce the most benefits for the lowest cost by adopting strategies such as switching homes to energy efficient lighting and better insulating our residences and workplaces. Compared to changing the national energy supply chain, these changes aren’t highly technical. They are matters of changing human beliefs and behavior.

An article published in Science last year diagnosed the real problem of climate change in this way: “Experiencing the self as separate from nature is the foundation of humanity’s damaged relationship to planetary resources.” The only real solution to the climate problems facing our planet is to change mindsets, an approach that requires a complex understanding of all the ways that individuals and institutions interact with the natural world. In other words, students should not only study the social sciences or the natural sciences, but also learn how the insights gained from both can be combined to be even more powerful.

The importance of making connections across perspectives also plays out at the local level.

One traffic intersection in the center of Drachten, Netherlands, accommodates 20,000 drivers as well as many bicyclists and pedestrians each day. As a result, it became notorious for its high rate of accidents and deaths. A conventional solution might have been to load up the roads with signage and signals that clearly instruct everyone where to go and when. But when Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman approached the problem, he saw the congested conduit as a place of profound disconnection. Rather than peppering the roads with signs, in 2003 he took all signage away. This approach to “shared space” design meant that drivers, cyclists and pedestrians had to increase their awareness of each other to successfully navigate the intersection. This reliance on human connection rather than engineered traffic patterns upended conventional thinking, and dramatically decreased the number of accidents and deaths. The most innovative solutions to local problems like this demand deep integration of quantitative and emotional insights that are too often segregated between traditional academic disciplines.


Finally, we see many challenges at the individual, personal level that call out for integrated thinking.

Terri, a Boston-area woman in her 60s who uses a wheelchair, told a team in one of our engineering design classes here at Olin College of Engineering that she finds grocery shopping a cumbersome and physically painful experience. A traditional engineer’s answer might point her to online services that could provide convenient in-home grocery delivery without unpleasant exertion.

But when our students joined Terri at the supermarket, tried to navigate the store from her wheelchair, and spent time with her in her home, they discovered something unexpected. For Terri, grocery shopping wasn’t only focused on getting food, but offered a special opportunity to laugh with the butcher, exercise autonomy and experience community membership. An online service could deliver her ground turkey, but it would also make her feel lonely. The students’ solution was a custom easily adaptable rack for the chair – painted bright purple, Terri’s favorite color – that eased the physical challenges of shopping while enhancing her ability to engage with her community in a meaningful way. Devising this solution required a nimble synthesis of engineering design and attention to human values.

Teaching new approaches

As these examples illustrate, we need to teach students to approach complex problems differently. Our future is at stake.

This past May, a joint task force from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report entitled “Branches From the Same Tree: The Integration of the Humanities and Arts with Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Higher Education.” This study identified the great potential in interdisciplinary education. The list of possible benefits include improved student motivation and enjoyment of learning, development of teamwork and communication skills, ethical decision-making and critical thinking.

Done correctly, engineering begins and ends with people. Done optimally, tackling our world’s biggest challenges requires a diverse and integrative approach.

We see encouraging examples of this type of innovative integration in diverse corners of academia. For example, at George Mason University, the Rain Project, part of the EcoScience + Art Initiative brought together faculty from sciences, arts, humanities and design departments to develop a floating wetland. The project not only improved water quality and stormwater management, but also demonstrated the local community’s dependence on their wetlands for survival. Or the STAGE Lab at the University of Chicago, where new pieces of theater and film are created within the context of the Institute for Molecular Engineering. Here, the creation of new plays and films alongside the creation of new scientific findings inspires new ways of asking questions, in both art and science.

Ethics, sustainability, questions of identity, equity or social justice, and many other topics, must be included in the scientist’s or engineer’s design process. And their repertoire must include rigorous communication, teaming, self-directed learning, self-reflection and other skills. Similarly, artists, writers, managers and other non-technical professionals lose out when their work ends where scientific thinking begins.

Our Labor Day resolution this year won’t help us with weight or time management. Instead, it will help us to humbly remember the limits of any one way of thinking about major challenges and the promise of true integration.

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How faculty research contributes to solving real-world problems

Faculty members are the heart and soul of academic institutions and have the expertise to address real-world issues..

How faculty research contributes to solving real-world problems.

By Pavithra M 

In an ever-changing world filled with complicated issues, academia’s function goes beyond the classroom walls. Faculty researchers are in the spotlight for addressing some of the most important global concerns because of their expertise and dedication to making a difference. Faculty research addresses an extensive spectrum of global issues including, climate change, healthcare inequities, poverty, technical breakthroughs, and cybersecurity. Their studies yield real answers that go beyond academics, helping shape a brighter future by addressing the concerns. They have emerged as a powerful driver for positive change capable of transforming the world among multiple problems such as economic inequality, infectious diseases, and technological changes. In an era of enormous global difficulties, the role of academics in addressing these concerns has become even more critical.

problem solving in corporate world

The Power of Faculty Research

Under this collaboration, both the organisations claim to work together to promote the adoption of technology among learners.

Faculty members are the heart and soul of academic institutions and have the expertise to address real-world issues. The responsibilities of educators are not just teaching knowledge to students but also necessitate producing innovative ideas, testing hypotheses, and evaluating data to produce evidence-based solutions. This research-driven method combines theoretical discoveries with practical applications bridging academia and the outside world. In a world troubled by challenges that are difficult to overcome, faculty research serves as a guiding light of hope and a catalyst for change. These committed academicians explore complex problems that have an impact on civilizations all around the world by utilizing their knowledge, resources, and networks. Innovation, critical thinking, and an unshakable dedication to finding workable solutions characterize their work. Faculty researchers close the knowledge gap between theory and practice by relentlessly pursuing their goals and showing how academic ideas may be used in practical settings.

Addressing Climate Change

Climate change is one of the most serious concerns the world is facing today. Understanding its causes, effects, and potential solutions is being aided by faculty researchers from various fields. While meteorologists examine weather patterns, engineers create sustainable technology , and economists evaluate the financial effects of climate policy, environmental scientists research the dynamics of ecosystems. Collaboration among faculties have improved the use of renewable energy, sustainable farming methods, and environmental protection policies.

Improving Global Health

Worldwide healthcare disparities still exist, but faculty researchers are vigorously trying to improve it. Medical researchers examine how diseases work, epidemiologists monitor disease transmission, social researchers analyze healthcare delivery systems and public health professionals develop interventions. They create vaccinations, provide access to healthcare, and encourage healthy behaviors through interdisciplinary cooperation. The crucial role of academic research in preserving public health and forming evidence-based policies which have been highlighted by recent occurrences like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fostering Technological Innovation

Technology innovation is both an opportunity and a challenge in a society that is becoming more linked. Faculty researchers are at the forefront of trailblazing innovations in disciplines such as computer science, engineering, and data science. Their work has changed industries and revolutionized how we inhabit a world that varies from biotechnology to artificial intelligence . This development also raises ethical, private and security issues that need careful thought. Faculty research promotes responsible and inclusive technological development in addition to fostering creativity.

Promoting Social Equity

Social injustices require multidimensional solutions whether they are caused by racial, gender or economic inequalities. To contribute, faculty academics from disciplines of social sciences, humanities and law look at the systems that support inequality and suggest ways to modify them. Their work influences public discourse, aids in the advocacy of underprivileged communities and informs policymakers. Faculty research acts as an advocate for improvements in society by stimulating empathy, acceptance, and mindfulness.

Informing Policy and Decision-Making

Faculty research has an enormous effect on decision and policy making, which is one of its most significant effects. Evidence-based insights are frequently used by policymakers to develop solutions for dealing with complicated problems. Faculty researchers contribute valuable information and recommendations that influence policy discussions by using robust methods and analytical tools. For instance, academic research on trends in climate change, biodiversity loss and sustainable resource management aids policymakers in developing efficient rules and international agreements in the field of environmental conservation. Faculty research acts as a driving force for transformation by bridging the separation between academics and policy.

Contributing to Global Awareness and Advocacy:

Faculty research supports advocacy and awareness-raising initiatives in addition to providing technical solutions. Researchers alert the public to these problems by highlighting the significance and urgency of global crises. Their research and conclusions frequently find their way into public debate, the media, and political campaigns by increasing the call to action and inspiring communities all over the world to tackle these issues jointly.

The Way Forward

Faculty research has its share of challenges. The pursuit of influential research can occasionally be hampered by a lack of money , time constraints and the need to publish. However, universities, governments and private groups are increasingly offering support and resources to develop worthwhile projects as they recognize the significance of academic research in resolving global concerns. Technology has also increased the scope of academic research. Researchers can share their findings with a larger audience through online platforms, open-access publications, and social media, which increases the impact of their work. The application of research to real-world issues is further improved by cooperative initiatives between academics, businesses, and non-governmental organizations. As we move forward, it is crucial to maintain support for and promotion of faculty research as a significant driver for good change on a worldwide scale.

The significance of academic research in tackling these concerns continues to be of the utmost relevance as the globe struggles with complicated issues. The expertise and dedication of the faculty create solutions that have a variety of effects on problems like social fairness, healthcare, technology, and climate change. The importance of developing an environment that encourages influential research has grown ever clearer as the world is transforming. By encouraging and funding research, we provide our greatest minds with the resources they need to build a better and more sustainable future for everyone. Faculty researchers make major contributions that have an impact well beyond academia through multidisciplinary collaboration, advancing the boundaries of knowledge, informing policy, supporting innovation, and connecting with communities. It is not merely an academic pursuit, but it is a call to action, an attempt to enhance our world via the strength of innovation and knowledge.

The author is assistant professor, operations and analytics at Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai. Views are personal.

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A generational commitment is needed to solve New Mexico’s safety issues, attorney general says

New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez, right, discusses the nexus of public safety, mental health and adverse child experiences during a news conference following a summit he hosted in Albuquerque, N.M., Friday, Nov. 3, 2023. Torrez said solving the state’s public safety problems will be complex and will require a generational effort. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez discusses the nexus of public safety, mental health and adverse child experiences during a news conference following a summit in Albuquerque, N.M., Friday, Nov. 3, 2023. Torrez said solving the state’s public safety problems will be complex and will require a generational effort. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

A panel of experts from around New Mexico talk about the need to remove bureaucracy when it comes to providing the public with mental health services during a summit in Albuquerque, N.M., Friday, Nov. 3, 2023. New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez hosted the event, saying it will take a generational effort to address the state’s public safety problems. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — It will take a generational commitment to solve New Mexico’s public safety problems, the state’s top prosecutor said Friday, urging policymakers to listen to those on the ground who are working with people in need of mental health services.

Attorney General Raúl Torrez spent hours listening to providers and other experts from around the state. It was the second such summit Torrez had hosted. The first in September brought together law enforcement officers and prosecutors to share ideas for curbing violent crime.

The meetings come as New Mexico continues to grapple with a crime rate that remains well above the national average. Torrez said most violent crime has its roots in child abuse and neglect, substance abuse and intergenerational trauma — all problems that are addressed now in silos, with professionals working separately.

He and others talked about breaking down those silos and reducing bureaucracy in order to get people the help they need before they end up in the criminal justice system or dead.

FILE - New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez speaks during a news conference, May 18, 2023, at the The Clyde Hotel in Albuquerque, N.M. New Mexico’s top prosecutor is going after landowners who he says are illegally and unconstitutionally depriving the public of access to stretches of one of the state's most well-known rivers. (Jon Austria/The Albuquerque Journal via AP, File)

“This is going to be a long and complicated and intensive effort,” Torrez said at the summit. “It has to be if it’s going to be successful.”

The attorney general’s office said it plans to use what has been learned during the meetings to make recommendations to the governor and state lawmakers in hopes of creating a comprehensive public safety package ahead of the legislative session in January.

The session will be focused on budget issues, and Torrez said there will be no shortage of resources that lawmakers can funnel toward more efficient programs as New Mexico stands to see another financial windfall from record-breaking oil and gas production.

Nick Boukas, director of the Behavioral Health Services Division within the state Human Services Department, said more conversations like the ones had Friday are needed to figure out how New Mexico can do things better. He said he speaks with his counterparts in other states every month to share lessons learned.

Dominic Cappello, co-founder of the Anna, Age Eight Institute at New Mexico State University, said each state and how it takes care of its most vulnerable populations can be considered as separate social experiments, with some doing better jobs than others.

He pointed to annual rankings put out by The Annie E. Casey Foundation that are based on indicators related to child wellbeing. He acknowledged that New Mexico is usually last and that there are things to learn from states in the top 10.

“There’s all the research in the world out there on what you do,” he said, referring to addressing social determinants of health. “Some states invest more in this and others don’t. So it really comes down to that.”

Mental health providers who were at the summit said lawmakers are universally supportive of making it easier for people in their communities to access services.

“Republican, Democrat — it doesn’t matter. Everybody wants this in their community,” said David Ley, president of the New Mexico Behavioral Health Providers Association. “I think we just need to be able to give them the answers and ideas.”

Six problem-solving mindsets for very uncertain times

Great problem solvers are made, not born. That’s what we’ve found after decades of problem solving with leaders across business, nonprofit, and policy sectors. These leaders learn to adopt a particularly open and curious mindset, and adhere to a systematic process for cracking even the most inscrutable problems. They’re terrific problem solvers under any conditions. And when conditions of uncertainty are at their peak, they’re at their brilliant best.

Six mutually reinforcing approaches underly their success: (1) being ever-curious about every element of a problem; (2) being imperfectionists , with a high tolerance for ambiguity; (3) having a “dragonfly eye” view of the world, to see through multiple lenses; (4) pursuing occurrent behavior and experimenting relentlessly; (5) tapping into the collective intelligence , acknowledging that the smartest people are not in the room; and (6) practicing “show and tell” because storytelling begets action (exhibit).

Here’s how they do it.

1. Be ever-curious

As any parent knows, four-year-olds are unceasing askers. Think of the never-ending “whys” that make little children so delightful—and relentless. For the very young, everything is new and wildly uncertain. But they’re on a mission of discovery, and they’re determined to figure things out. And they’re good at it! That high-energy inquisitiveness is why we have high shelves and childproof bottles.

When you face radical uncertainty, remember your four-year-old or channel the four-year-old within you. Relentlessly ask, “Why is this so?” Unfortunately, somewhere between preschool and the boardroom, we tend to stop asking. Our brains make sense of massive numbers of data points by imposing patterns that have worked for us and other humans in the past. That’s why a simple technique, worth employing at the beginning of problem solving, is simply to pause and ask why conditions or assumptions are so until you arrive at the root of the problem. 1 This approach was originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota.

Natural human biases in decision making, including confirmation, availability, and anchoring biases, often cause us to shut down the range of solutions too early. 2 Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow , New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011. Better—and more creative—solutions come from being curious about the broader range of potential answers.

One simple suggestion from author and economist Caroline Webb to generate more curiosity in team problem solving is to put a question mark behind your initial hypotheses or first-cut answers. This small artifice is surprisingly powerful: it tends to encourage multiple solution paths and puts the focus, correctly, on assembling evidence. We also like thesis/antithesis, or red team/blue team, sessions, in which you divide a group into opposing teams that argue against the early answers—typically, more traditional conclusions that are more likely to come from a conventional pattern. Why is this solution better? Why not that one? We’ve found that better results come from embracing uncertainty. Curiosity is the engine of creativity.

We have to be comfortable with estimating probabilities to make good decisions, even when these guesses are imperfect. Unfortunately, we have truckloads of evidence showing that human beings aren’t good intuitive statisticians.

2. Tolerate ambiguity—and stay humble!

When we think of problem solvers, many of us tend to picture a poised and brilliant engineer. We may imagine a mastermind who knows what she’s doing and approaches a problem with purpose. The reality, though, is that most good problem solving has a lot of trial and error; it’s more like the apparent randomness of rugby than the precision of linear programming. We form hypotheses, porpoise into the data, and then surface and refine (or throw out) our initial guess at the answer. This above all requires an embrace of imperfection and a tolerance for ambiguity—and a gambler’s sense of probabilities.

The real world is highly uncertain. Reality unfolds as the complex product of stochastic events and human reactions. The impact of COVID-19 is but one example: we address the health and economic effects of the disease, and their complex interactions, with almost no prior knowledge. We have to be comfortable with estimating probabilities to make good decisions, even when these guesses are imperfect. Unfortunately, we have truckloads of evidence showing that human beings aren’t good intuitive statisticians. Guesses based on gut instinct can be wildly wrong. That’s why one of the keys to operating in uncertain environments is epistemic humility, which Erik Angner defines as “the realization that our knowledge is always provisional and incomplete—and that it might require revision in light of new evidence.” 3 Erik Angner, “Epistemic humility—knowing your limits in a pandemic,” Behavioral Scientist , April 13, 2020, behavioralscientist.org.

Recent research shows that we are better at solving problems when we think in terms of odds rather than certainties. 4 Annie Duke, Thinking in Terms of Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts , New York, NY: Portfolio/Penguin, 2018. For example, when the Australian research body Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), which owned a core patent on the wireless internet protocol, sought royalties from major companies, it was initially rebuffed. The CSIRO bet that it could go to court to protect its intellectual property because it estimated that it needed only 10 percent odds of success for this to be a good wager, given the legal costs and likely payoff. It improved its odds by picking the weakest of the IP violators and selecting a legal jurisdiction that favored plaintiffs. This probabilistic thinking paid off and eventually led to settlements to CSIRO exceeding $500 million. 5 CSIRO briefing to US Government, December 5, 2006. A tolerance for ambiguity and a willingness to play the odds helped the organization feel its way to a good solution path.

To embrace imperfectionism with epistemic humility, start by challenging solutions that imply certainty. You can do that in the nicest way by asking questions such as “What would we have to believe for this to be true?” This brings to the surface implicit assumptions about probabilities and makes it easier to assess alternatives. When uncertainty is high, see if you can make small moves or acquire information at a reasonable cost to edge out into a solution set. Perfect knowledge is in short supply, particularly for complex business and societal problems. Embracing imperfection can lead to more effective problem solving. It’s practically a must in situations of high uncertainty, such as the beginning of a problem-solving process or during an emergency.

Good problem solving typically involves designing experiments to reduce key uncertainties. Each move provides additional information and builds capabilities.

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3. take a dragonfly-eye view.

Dragonfly-eye perception is common to great problem solvers. Dragonflies have large, compound eyes, with thousands of lenses and photoreceptors sensitive to different wavelengths of light. Although we don’t know exactly how their insect brains process all this visual information, by analogy they see multiple perspectives not available to humans. The idea of a dragonfly eye taking in 360 degrees of perception 6 Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction , New York, NY: Crown, 2015. is an attribute of “superforecasters”—people, often without domain expertise, who are the best at forecasting events.

Think of this as widening the aperture on a problem or viewing it through multiple lenses. The object is to see beyond the familiar tropes into which our pattern-recognizing brains want to assemble perceptions. By widening the aperture, we can identify threats or opportunities beyond the periphery of vision.

Consider the outbreak of HIV in India in the early 1990s—a major public-health threat. Ashok Alexander, director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s India Aids Initiative, provided a brilliant example of not just vision but also dragonfly vision. Facing a complex social map with a rapidly increasing infection rate, he widened the problem’s definition, from a traditional epidemiological HIV transmission model at known “hot spots,” to one in which sex workers facing violence were made the centerpiece.

This approach led to the “Avahan solution,” which addressed a broader set of leverage points by including the sociocultural context of sex work. The solution was rolled out to more than 600 communities and eventually credited with preventing 600,000 infections. The narrow medical perspective was sensible and expected, but it didn’t tap into the related issue of violence against sex workers, which yielded a richer solution set. Often, a secret unlocks itself only when one looks at a problem from multiple perspectives, including some that initially seem orthogonal.

The secret to developing a dragonfly-eye view is to “anchor outside” rather than inside when faced with problems of uncertainty and opportunity. Take the broader ecosystem as a starting point. That will encourage you to talk with customers, suppliers, or, better yet, players in a different but related industry or space. Going through the customer journey with design-thinking in mind is another powerful way to get a 360-degree view of a problem. But take note: when decision makers face highly constrained time frames or resources, they may have to narrow the aperture and deliver a tight, conventional answer.

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4. pursue occurrent behavior.

Occurrent behavior is what actually happens in a time and place, not what was potential or predicted behavior. Complex problems don’t give up their secrets easily. But that shouldn’t deter problem solvers from exploring whether evidence on the facets of a solution can be observed, or running experiments to test hypotheses. You can think of this approach as creating data rather than just looking for what has been collected already. It’s critical for new market entry—or new market creation. It also comes in handy should you find that crunching old data is leading to stale solutions.

Most of the problem-solving teams we are involved with have twin dilemmas of uncertainty and complexity, at times combined as truly “wicked problems.” 7 A term coined in a now famous 1973 article: Horst W. J. Rittel and Melvin Webber, “Dilemmas in a general theory of planning,” Policy Sciences , 1973, Number 4, pp. 155–69. For companies ambitious to win in the great unknown in an emerging segment—such as electric cars or autonomous vehicles, where the market isn’t fully established—good problem solving typically involves designing experiments to reduce key uncertainties, not just relying on existing data. Each move (such as buying IP or acquiring a component supplier) and each experiment (including on-road closed tests) not only provides additional information to make decisions but also builds capabilities and assets that support further steps. Over time, their experiments, including alliances and acquisitions, come to resemble staircases that lead to either the goal or to abandonment of the goal. Problem-solving organizations can “bootstrap” themselves into highly uncertain new spaces, building information, foundational assets, and confidence as they take steps forward.

Risk-embracing problem solvers find a solution path by constantly experimenting. Statisticians use the abbreviation EVPI—the expected value of perfect information—to show the value of gaining additional information that typically comes from samples and experiments, such as responses to price changes in particular markets. A/B testing is a powerful tool for experimenting with prices, promotions, and other features and is particularly useful for digital marketplaces and consumer goods. Online marketplaces make A/B testing easy. Yet most conventional markets also offer opportunities to mimic the market’s segmentation and use it to test different approaches.

The mindset required to be a restless experimenter is consistent with the notion in start-ups of “failing fast.” It means that you get product and customer affirmation or rejection quickly through beta tests and trial offerings. Don’t take a lack of external data as an impediment—it may actually be a gift, since purchasable data is almost always from a conventional way of meeting needs, and is available to your competitors too. Your own experiments allow you to generate your own data; this gives you insights that others don’t have. If it is difficult (or unethical) to experiment, look for the “natural experiments” provided by different policies in similar locations. An example would be to compare outcomes in twin cities, such as Minneapolis–St. Paul.

It’s a mistake to think that your team has the smartest people in the room. They aren’t there. They’re invariably somewhere else. Nor do they need to be there if you can access their intelligence via other means.

5. Tap into collective intelligence and the wisdom of the crowd

Chris Bradley, a coauthor of Strategy Beyond the Hockey Stick , 8 Chris Bradley, Marin Hirt, and Sven Smit, Strategy Beyond the Hockey Stick: People, Probabilities, and Big Moves to Beat the Odds , Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2018. observed that “it’s a mistake to think that on your team you have the smartest people in the room. They aren’t there. They’re invariably somewhere else.” 9 For more from Chris Bradley, in a conversation with Rob McLean, see “ Want better strategies? Become a bulletproof problem solver ,” August 2019. Nor do they need to be there if you can access their intelligence via other means. In an ever-changing world where conditions can evolve unpredictably, crowdsourcing invites the smartest people in the world to work with you. For example, in seeking a machine-learning algorithm to identify fish catch species and quantities on fishing boats, the Nature Conservancy (TNC) turned to Kaggle and offered a $150,000 prize for the best algorithm. This offer attracted 2,293 teams from all over the world. TNC now uses the winning algorithm to identify fish types and sizes caught on fishing boats in Asia to protect endangered Pacific tuna and other species.

Crowdsourced problem solving is familiar in another guise: benchmarking. When Sir Rod Carnegie was CEO of Conzinc Riotinto Australia (CRA), he was concerned about the costs of unscheduled downtime with heavy trucks, particularly those requiring tire changes. He asked his management team who was best in the world at changing tires; their answer was Formula One, the auto racing competition. A team traveled to the United Kingdom to learn best practice for tire changes in racetrack pits and then implemented what it learned thousands of miles away, in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The smartest team for this problem wasn’t in the mining industry at all.

Of course, while crowdsourcing can be useful when conventional thinking yields solutions that are too expensive or incomplete for the challenge at hand, it has its limitations. Good crowdsourcing takes time to set up, can be expensive, and may signal to your competitors what you are up to. Beware of hidden costs, such as inadvertently divulging information and having to sieve through huge volumes of irrelevant, inferior suggestions to find the rare gem of a solution.

Accept that it’s OK to draw on diverse experiences and expertise other than your own. Start with brainstorming sessions that engage people from outside your team. Try broader crowdsourcing competitions to generate ideas. Or bring in deep-learning talent to see what insights exist in your data that conventional approaches haven’t brought to light. The broader the circles of information you access, the more likely it is that your solutions will be novel and creative.

Rookie problem solvers show you their analytic process and math to convince you they are clever. Seasoned problem solvers show you differently.

6. Show and tell to drive action

We started our list of mindsets with a reference to children, and we return to children now, with “show and tell.” As you no doubt remember—back when you were more curious!—show and tell is an elementary-school activity. It’s not usually associated with problem solving, but it probably piqued your interest. In fact, this approach is critical to problem solving. Show and tell is how you connect your audience with the problem and then use combinations of logic and persuasion to get action.

The show-and-tell mindset aims to bring decision makers into a problem-solving domain you have created. A team from the Nature Conservancy, for instance, was presenting a proposal asking a philanthropic foundation to support the restoration of oyster reefs. Before the presentation, the team brought 17 plastic buckets of water into the boardroom and placed them around the perimeter. When the foundation’s staff members entered the room, they immediately wanted to know what the buckets were for. The team explained that oyster-reef restoration massively improves water quality because each oyster filters 17 buckets of water per day. Fish stocks improve, and oysters can also be harvested to help make the economics work. The decision makers were brought into the problem-solving domain through show and tell. They approved the funding requested and loved the physical dimension of the problem they were part of solving.

Rookie problem solvers show you their analytic process and mathematics to convince you that they are clever. That’s sometimes called APK, the anxious parade of knowledge. But seasoned problem solvers show you differently. The most elegant problem solving is that which makes the solution obvious. The late economist Herb Simon put it this way: “Solving a problem simply means representing it so as to make the solution transparent.” 10 Herbert Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial , Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1969.

To get better at show and tell, start by being clear about the action that should flow from your problem solving and findings: the governing idea for change. Then find a way to present your logic visually so that the path to answers can be debated and embraced. Present the argument emotionally as well as logically, and show why the preferred action offers an attractive balance between risks and rewards. But don’t stop there. Spell out the risks of inaction, which often have a higher cost than imperfect actions have.

The mindsets of great problem solvers are just as important as the methods they employ. A mindset that encourages curiosity, embraces imperfection, rewards a dragonfly-eye view of the problem, creates new data from experiments and collective intelligence, and drives action through compelling show-and-tell storytelling creates radical new possibilities under high levels of unpredictability. Of course, these approaches can be helpful in a broad range of circumstances, but in times of massive uncertainty, they are essential.

Charles Conn is an alumnus of McKinsey’s Sydney office and is a board member of Patagonia and former CEO of the Rhodes Trust. Robert McLean is an alumnus of the Sydney office and is the advisory-board chair of the Nature Conservancy Australia. They are the authors of Bulletproof Problem Solving: The One Skill That Changes Everything (Wiley, 2018).

This article was edited by David Schwartz, an executive editor in the Tel Aviv office.

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CEOs have gotten more pessimistic in the last five months. There’s a lot to be worried about

problem solving in corporate world

Good morning. CEOs turned more dour in the latest Fortune Deloitte poll. (Deloitte sponsors this newsletter.) Some 48% responded that they had a pessimistic outlook, compared to only 38% in our June poll.

What are they pessimistic about? Well, ‘What aren’t they pessimistic about?’ might be the better question. Geopolitics is at the top of their list, mentioned by 51% of the CEOs, right up there with inflation (51%), followed by financial instability (38%). With wars in Europe and the Middle East and continued tension between the U.S. and China, the world bears some frightening similarities to 1914 and 1939. And persistently high interest rates after a decade and a half of free money means there’s a big receding wave that will certainly catch some people “ swimming naked ,” as JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon put it yesterday, paraphrasing one of Warren Buffett’s most famous quotes.

Labor and skills shortages are still on the minds of 35% of CEOs, and increasing regulation is bothering an equal percentage. Cyber risk came in sixth on their list of concerns, mentioned by 25% of CEOs.

And since it is Friday, some feedback. Matt Kobussen of BlackRock corporate communications wrote in response to my Tuesday report that his company’s votes in favor of environmental and social shareholder actions dropped from 41.3% in the 2020-21 proxy year to a mere 8.7% in the 2022-23 proxy year. He claims new SEC rules broadening the scope of shareholder proposals led to a “decline in proposal quality,” and therefore this steep plunge was not a “singular result of politics.” Okay, I accept that. But does “decline in proposal quality” explain a drop of 32 percentage points? I think not. The political backlash has hit its mark.

More news below.

problem solving in corporate world

Alan Murray @alansmurray [email protected]

Apple earnings

Apple shares fell over 3% in extended trading after the iPhone maker reported a 1% decline in quarterly sales, the fourth in a row. Sales in Greater China were flat, as Apple reportedly struggles to sell the latest iPhone in mainland China , its most important non-U.S. market. CEO Tim Cook also did not provide updates on the company’s AI plans, using almost the exact same wording on the subject as last quarter’s earnings call. Fortune

A jury found one-time crypto mogul Sam Bankman-Fried guilty of seven criminal charges, including wire fraud, securities fraud, and money laundering. The Department of Justice accused the FTX founder of misappropriating about $8 billion in customer funds. The jury reached its verdict in just five hours–speedy for a white-collar crime case–almost exactly one year after a scoop from crypto outlet Coindesk triggered the exchange’s collapse. Fortune

Saving Yellow

Transport company Jack Cooper is reportedly trying to save bankrupt trucking firm Yellow from liquidation. But Jack Cooper still needs to convince Yellow’s creditors, including the U.S. government, which gave Yellow $700 million in an emergency loan in 2020. U.S. senators are now asking the Treasury Department to extend the terms of the government loan to help Yellow find a buyer. Fortune


Commentary: Amazon’s $26 billion delivery business runs on exhausted, sweat-soaked drivers running door to door. Now we’re on strike by Cecilia Porter  

Consumers are paying more than ever for streaming TV each month and analysts say there’s no reason for the companies to stop raising prices by Rachyl Jones

Think like a hacker and play the long game—How Amazon’s chief security officer protects all that data by Lila MacLellan

Women aren’t turning to ‘lazy girl jobs’ because they’re work-shy—they’re significantly more burned out than men, major Gallup survey finds by Orianna Rosa Royle

Gen Z and millennials have found a lucrative new hobby thanks to skyrocketing luxury prices: Flipping designer handbags by Hillary Hoffower

Brands like Walmart and Nestle are right to worry about Wegovy. Novo Nordisk sold $900m of the weight loss drug last quarter—and 95% was in the U.S. by Ryan Hogg

T his edition of CEO Daily was curated by Nicholas Gordon. 

This is the web version of CEO Daily, a newsletter of must-read insights from Fortune CEO Alan Murray. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.

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What Is Problem Solving in Business?

Problem-solving in business is defined as implementing processes that reduce or remove obstacles that are preventing you or others from accomplishing operational and strategic business goals.

In business, a problem is a situation that creates a gap between the desired and actual outcomes. In addition, a true problem typically does not have an immediately obvious resolution.

Business problem-solving works best when it is approached through a consistent system in which individuals:

  • Identify and define the problem
  • Prioritize the problem based on size, potential impact, and urgency
  • Complete a root-cause analysis
  • Develop a variety of possible solutions
  • Evaluate possible solutions and decide which is most effective
  • Plan and implement the solution

Why Problem Solving Is Important in Business

Understanding the importance of problem-solving skills in the workplace will help you develop as a leader. Problem-solving skills will help you resolve critical issues and conflicts that you come across. Problem-solving is a valued skill in the workplace because it allows you to:

  • Apply a standard problem-solving system to all challenges
  • Find the root causes of problems
  • Quickly deal with short-term business interruptions
  • Form plans to deal with long-term problems and improve the organization
  • See challenges as opportunities
  • Keep your cool during challenges

How to Solve Business Problems Effectively

There are many different problem-solving skills, but most can be broken into general steps. Here is a four-step method for business problem solving:

1) Identify the Details of the Problem: Gather enough information to accurately define the problem. This can include data on procedures being used, employee actions, relevant workplace rules, and so on. Write down the specific outcome that is needed, but don’t assume what the solution should be.

2) Creatively Brainstorm Solutions: Alone or with a team, state every solution you can think of. You’ll often need to write them down. To get more solutions, brainstorm with the employees who have the greatest knowledge of the issue.

3) Evaluate Solutions and Make a Decision: Compare and contrast alternative solutions based on the feasibility of each one, including the resources needed to implement it and the return on investment of each one. Finally, make a firm decision on one solution that clearly addresses the root cause of the problem.

4) Take Action: Write up a detailed plan for implementing the solution, get the necessary approvals, and put it into action.

What Are Problem-Solving Skills?

Problem-solving skills are specific procedures that can be used to complete one or more of the four general steps of problem-solving (discussed above). Here are five important examples:

Using Emotional Intelligence: You’ll solve problems more calmly when you learn to recognize your own emotional patterns and to empathize with and guide the emotions of others. Avoid knee-jerk responses and making assumptions.

Researching Problems: An effective solution requires an accurate description of the problem. Define simple problems using quick research methods such as asking, “What? Where? When? and How much?.” Difficult problems require more in-depth research, such as data exploration, surveys, and interviews.

Creative Brainstorming: When brainstorming with a group, encourage idea creation by listening attentively to everyone, and recognizing everyone’s unique contributions.

Logical Reasoning: Develop standard logical steps for analyzing possible solutions to problems. Study and apply ideas about logical fallacies, deductive reasoning, and other areas of analytical thought.

Decisiveness: Use an agreed-upon system for choosing a solution, which can include assigning pros and cons to solutions, identifying mandatory results, getting feedback about solutions, choosing the decision-maker(s), and finishing or repeating the process.

How to Improve Problem-Solving Skills

Learning how to solve business problems takes time and effort. Though some people appear to have been born with superior problem-solving skills, great problem solvers usually have practiced and refined their abilities. You can develop high-level skills for solving problems too, through the following methods:

Ask and Listen: Don’t expect to solve every problem alone. Ask for advice, and listen to it carefully.

Practice Curiosity: Any time you’re involved in solving a problem, practice researching and defining the problem just a little longer than you would naturally.

Break Down Problems: Whenever possible, break large problems into their smallest units. Then, search for solutions to one unit at a time.

Don’t Label Yourself Negatively: Don’t allow a problem to mean something negative about you personally. Separate yourself from it. Look at it objectively and be part of the solution.

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How to Be a More Creative Problem-Solver at Work: 8 Tips

Business professionals using creative problem-solving at work

  • 01 Mar 2022

The importance of creativity in the workplace—particularly when problem-solving—is undeniable. Business leaders can’t approach new problems with old solutions and expect the same result.

This is where innovation-based processes need to guide problem-solving. Here’s an overview of what creative problem-solving is, along with tips on how to use it in conjunction with design thinking.

What Is Creative Problem-Solving?

Encountering problems with no clear cause can be frustrating. This occurs when there’s disagreement around a defined problem or research yields unclear results. In such situations, creative problem-solving helps develop solutions, despite a lack of clarity.

While creative problem-solving is less structured than other forms of innovation, it encourages exploring open-ended ideas and shifting perspectives—thereby fostering innovation and easier adaptation in the workplace. It also works best when paired with other innovation-based processes, such as design thinking .

Creative Problem-Solving and Design Thinking

Design thinking is a solutions-based mentality that encourages innovation and problem-solving. It’s guided by an iterative process that Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar outlines in four stages in the online course Design Thinking and Innovation :

The four stages of design thinking: clarify, ideate, develop, and implement

  • Clarify: This stage involves researching a problem through empathic observation and insights.
  • Ideate: This stage focuses on generating ideas and asking open-ended questions based on observations made during the clarification stage.
  • Develop: The development stage involves exploring possible solutions based on the ideas you generate. Experimentation and prototyping are both encouraged.
  • Implement: The final stage is a culmination of the previous three. It involves finalizing a solution’s development and communicating its value to stakeholders.

Although user research is an essential first step in the design thinking process, there are times when it can’t identify a problem’s root cause. Creative problem-solving addresses this challenge by promoting the development of new perspectives.

Leveraging tools like design thinking and creativity at work can further your problem-solving abilities. Here are eight tips for doing so.

Design Thinking and Innovation | Uncover creative solutions to your business problems | Learn More

8 Creative Problem-Solving Tips

1. empathize with your audience.

A fundamental practice of design thinking’s clarify stage is empathy. Understanding your target audience can help you find creative and relevant solutions for their pain points through observing them and asking questions.

Practice empathy by paying attention to others’ needs and avoiding personal comparisons. The more you understand your audience, the more effective your solutions will be.

2. Reframe Problems as Questions

If a problem is difficult to define, reframe it as a question rather than a statement. For example, instead of saying, "The problem is," try framing around a question like, "How might we?" Think creatively by shifting your focus from the problem to potential solutions.

Consider this hypothetical case study: You’re the owner of a local coffee shop trying to fill your tip jar. Approaching the situation with a problem-focused mindset frames this as: "We need to find a way to get customers to tip more." If you reframe this as a question, however, you can explore: "How might we make it easier for customers to tip?" When you shift your focus from the shop to the customer, you empathize with your audience. You can take this train of thought one step further and consider questions such as: "How might we provide a tipping method for customers who don't carry cash?"

Whether you work at a coffee shop, a startup, or a Fortune 500 company, reframing can help surface creative solutions to problems that are difficult to define.

3. Defer Judgment of Ideas

If you encounter an idea that seems outlandish or unreasonable, a natural response would be to reject it. This instant judgment impedes creativity. Even if ideas seem implausible, they can play a huge part in ideation. It's important to permit the exploration of original ideas.

While judgment can be perceived as negative, it’s crucial to avoid accepting ideas too quickly. If you love an idea, don’t immediately pursue it. Give equal consideration to each proposal and build on different concepts instead of acting on them immediately.

4. Overcome Cognitive Fixedness

Cognitive fixedness is a state of mind that prevents you from recognizing a situation’s alternative solutions or interpretations instead of considering every situation through the lens of past experiences.

Although it's efficient in the short-term, cognitive fixedness interferes with creative thinking because it prevents you from approaching situations unbiased. It's important to be aware of this tendency so you can avoid it.

5. Balance Divergent and Convergent Thinking

One of the key principles of creative problem-solving is the balance of divergent and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking is the process of brainstorming multiple ideas without limitation; open-ended creativity is encouraged. It’s an effective tool for generating ideas, but not every idea can be explored. Divergent thinking eventually needs to be grounded in reality.

Convergent thinking, on the other hand, is the process of narrowing ideas down into a few options. While converging ideas too quickly stifles creativity, it’s an important step that bridges the gap between ideation and development. It's important to strike a healthy balance between both to allow for the ideation and exploration of creative ideas.

6. Use Creative Tools

Using creative tools is another way to foster innovation. Without a clear cause for a problem, such tools can help you avoid cognitive fixedness and abrupt decision-making. Here are several examples:

Problem Stories

Creating a problem story requires identifying undesired phenomena (UDP) and taking note of events that precede and result from them. The goal is to reframe the situations to visualize their cause and effect.

To start, identify a UDP. Then, discover what events led to it. Observe and ask questions of your consumer base to determine the UDP’s cause.

Next, identify why the UDP is a problem. What effect does the UDP have that necessitates changing the status quo? It's helpful to visualize each event in boxes adjacent to one another when answering such questions.

The problem story can be extended in either direction, as long as there are additional cause-and-effect relationships. Once complete, focus on breaking the chains connecting two subsequent events by disrupting the cause-and-effect relationship between them.

Alternate Worlds

The alternate worlds tool encourages you to consider how people from different backgrounds would approach similar situations. For instance, how would someone in hospitality versus manufacturing approach the same problem? This tool isn't intended to instantly solve problems but, rather, to encourage idea generation and creativity.

7. Use Positive Language

It's vital to maintain a positive mindset when problem-solving and avoid negative words that interfere with creativity. Positive language prevents quick judgments and overcomes cognitive fixedness. Instead of "no, but," use words like "yes, and."

Positive language makes others feel heard and valued rather than shut down. This practice doesn’t necessitate agreeing with every idea but instead approaching each from a positive perspective.

Using “yes, and” as a tool for further idea exploration is also effective. If someone presents an idea, build upon it using “yes, and.” What additional features could improve it? How could it benefit consumers beyond its intended purpose?

While it may not seem essential, this small adjustment can make a big difference in encouraging creativity.

8. Practice Design Thinking

Practicing design thinking can make you a more creative problem-solver. While commonly associated with the workplace, adopting a design thinking mentality can also improve your everyday life. Here are several ways you can practice design thinking:

  • Learn from others: There are many examples of design thinking in business . Review case studies to learn from others’ successes, research problems companies haven't addressed, and consider alternative solutions using the design thinking process.
  • Approach everyday problems with a design thinking mentality: One of the best ways to practice design thinking is to apply it to your daily life. Approach everyday problems using design thinking’s four-stage framework to uncover what solutions it yields.
  • Study design thinking: While learning design thinking independently is a great place to start, taking an online course can offer more insight and practical experience. The right course can teach you important skills , increase your marketability, and provide valuable networking opportunities.

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Ready to Become a Creative Problem-Solver?

Though creativity comes naturally to some, it's an acquired skill for many. Regardless of which category you're in, improving your ability to innovate is a valuable endeavor. Whether you want to bolster your creativity or expand your professional skill set, taking an innovation-based course can enhance your problem-solving.

If you're ready to become a more creative problem-solver, explore Design Thinking and Innovation , one of our online entrepreneurship and innovation courses . If you aren't sure which course is the right fit, download our free course flowchart to determine which best aligns with your goals.

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9 Creative Business Ideas That Solve Real-World Problems

Here are nine innovative business ideas that solve everyday problems.

If you’re interested in starting a business, it simply points to one thing; your desire to become a problem solver.

Businesses are built around providing solutions to a variety of human problems. So, this article will be discussing such profitable business ideas that also solve problems at the same time.

9 Problem-solving Business Opportunities

Drone videographer.

Commercial drone technology has been fairly recent and has been deployed into a wide range of useful areas such as surveillance and entertainment just to mention a few. This has created enormous opportunities for entrepreneurs who can set up drone-related businesses .

Such businesses range from film making, drone photography, agricultural inspection or manning and mapping & industrial inspection businesses.

Others include drone advertising and marketing, small business delivery services, drone professional courses provider, and drone repair services provider just to mention a few.

Creche For Men

This might sound awkward but is a viable business idea to consider. This helps solve the problem of retail trauma for men who have to escort or accompany their wives for shopping. For a lot of men, this activity is one they’d rather avoid if they can.

However, a creche for men can help make it enjoyable.

To make shopping visits less stressful and monotonous for men, a sanctuary is created that is stocked with lots of interesting activities such as games, a magazine section as well as professional head and neck massages.

Such activities enable men to also enjoy shopping trips, thus solving a problem while also fetching profits for the entrepreneur.

Child-Friendly Cafes

The need for family-friendly cafés is on the rise.

This is because an increasing number of families want to spend some time outdoors especially in a café but can’t due to kids running riot. A child-friendly café concept steps in to solve this problem by including activities that keep kids busy, while allowing parents to also enjoy their time.

Here, there’s something for everyone.

Some of the many activities you can include making your café child-friendly include playpens with lots of games and kids stuff. More importantly, you’d have succeeded in giving respite to parents who will always return to where their kids can be taken care of.

What more? You also stand to benefit from referrals as your clients are likely to discuss with their friends and relatives about your business. Thus, making your business a haven for parents having difficulties controlling their kids while they enjoy their food and drinks.

Online Course Creator

One thing that is common with most people is the need to constantly develop.

This may include learning a new skill or finding creative ways to be more productive. As someone very knowledgeable about a skill or industry, you can create solutions by providing online courses in these areas.

The beauty of creating online course content is that your audience can be huge as long as your services are considered relevant and important. You’ll need to begin by finding a niche you have real competence in.

Also, finding out if there’s a real demand for your skill can go a long way in helping you establish a thriving business.

Online Influencer

Online influencers have played and continue to play a critical role in how products and services are being perceived by members of the public. To become an online influencer, you’ll need to have the personality that attracts. Being a celebrity isn’t easy.

However, if you do have the influence, it can be monetized by providing marketing services for businesses among others.

Having a large and dedicated following is one of the major criteria for being considered an influencer. There are lots of positive things you can do with such power and influence that will earn you significant income.

Event Planner And Promoter

There are several things an event planner and promoter can do .

One of them is your ability to take the rigors of planning for an even off the shoulders of your clients. One of the problems a lot of people would want to avoid is dealing with every detail involved in preparing for an event.

As a promoter, your marketing skills will be in high demand by clubs, restaurants and a lot of other physical venues to drive in traffic through their doors. For doing this successfully, you’re adequately compensated.

To be successful in this regard, you’ll need to be skilled enough to offer real value to your clients.

Language Translator

Language translators play a critical role in breaking the barrier posed by different spoken and written languages.

There are lots of roles you can fit in. These range from content translation, creating a mobile app for voice to voice translation, and providing real-time translation while chatting.

Other language translation services you can offer include on-demand crowdsourced interpretation service, as well as real-time, in-person translation with no cross-talk.

These are just a few of the many services you can offer and take advantage of as a language translator.

Personal Fitness Trainer

With the rising awareness of fitness benefits, the need for personal trainers has also increased. These professionals help create and implement fitness programs by taking clients through a variety of sessions. If you have fitness and personal training experience, your skill will be in demand.

You only need to advertise your services while also taking advantage of your contacts. By helping people set and attain their fitness goals, you’ll never be in a short supply of clients who in turn refer your business to others.

If you like helping or providing assistance with academic work, then you might want to consider becoming a tutor . Your expertise can be offered in a wide range of areas such as the ACT, general schoolwork, or SAT among others.

The most important thing is you’re helping people adequately prepare for their academic tasks. You can either provide personal or group tutoring. The decision is entirely yours.

If you’ve read to this point, you should have a better understanding of what business ideas help solve common problems. As mentioned earlier, businesses are generally about problem-solving.

Being able to create solutions for existing problems will generally attract paying clients.

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Business Opportunity in Solving the World’s Big Problems

Related Expertise: Social Impact , Corporate Finance and Strategy

The Business Opportunity in Solving the World’s Big Problems

February 05, 2018  By  Wendy Woods

What does chocolate have to do with addressing some of the world’s greatest challenges? More than you might think.

Consider Mars Incorporated, the sixth-largest private company in the United States. While its competitors are worrying about the availability of cocoa, Mars is confident in its stable and robust supply of the crop for the long term. That’s because the company partners with nonprofit agencies that certify small-scale cocoa famers around the world. These agencies ensure that farmers get healthy crop yields and receive a premium price on their cocoa. And they ensure that human rights are upheld and the environment is protected. These partnerships are good for smallholder farming communities, good for the environment—and good for Mars, which has mitigated a key risk in its supply chain. The company’s goal: a cocoa supply that is 100% certified by 2020.

Mars’s approach brings to life the power of what we call total societal impact. TSI is the sum of all the ways a company influences society, our communities, and the environment through its fundamental business strategy and its core assets, capabilities, and operations. Focusing on TSI means integrating social and environmental considerations into the real work of business: supply chains, product design and manufacturing processes, and distribution channels.

Certainly, the idea of simultaneously creating profit and societal benefits is not altogether new. But the fact remains that most companies focus almost exclusively on total shareholder return.  TSI can and should stand with TSR as an important driver of corporate strategy and decision making. BCG’s extensive study of more than 300 companies shows how a focus on TSI is linked to enhanced corporate performance and how some leading companies are making it work. (See Total Societal Impact: A New Lens on Strategy , BCG report, October 2017.)

TSI can and should stand with TSR as an important driver of corporate strategy and decision making.

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Business Needs to Step Up

The global urgency for business to play a bigger societal role is difficult to ignore. In 2011, for instance, wealthy countries gave about $160 billion in aid to developing countries—the nations that bear the heaviest burden of problems such as poverty, hunger, climate change, and inequality. No doubt NGOs and governments did great work with that $160 billion, helping malnourished children, teenagers who would not otherwise get any education, and families without access to clean water.

But it is not enough. Big challenges require trillions, not just billions. The Sustainable Development Goals outlined by the United Nations, for example, aim to address some of the world’s most significant challenges. But there is an estimated $2.5 trillion annual gap between what is being spent to reach the SDGs and the full investment that’s required.

Big challenges require trillions, not just billions.

Corporations can play a critical role in filling that gap. In the same year that wealthy countries donated $160 billion to developing countries, businesses invested about $3.7 trillion in their operations in those nations.

Given the scale of the societal challenges around the world and the magnitude of the resources business has to offer, it is clear that the only way to make substantial and lasting progress on the biggest challenges is for business, both corporations and investors, to help develop solutions. For companies that approach this creatively, there is also significant opportunity: for example, the Business and Sustainable Development Commission estimates that efforts to achieve the SDGs will open up at least $12 trillion in annual business revenue and cost savings.

It’s important to note that when we talk about TSI, we mean something different from corporate philanthropy or corporate social responsibility (CSR). Such programs are important and useful; they provide a route for corporate empathy that employees and customers value. However, philanthropy and CSR programs are not, and never will be, big enough, robust enough, or durable enough to solve big global problems. They typically represent incremental costs to the corporation. As a result, there are real limits to how much they can grow.  And in a downturn, they are often the first programs to be cut.

When we talk about TSI, we mean something different from corporate philanthropy or CSR.

The financial rewards of a focus on tsi.

In our study of how companies are improving their societal impact, and how those efforts are linked to financial performance, we looked at two important metrics for financial performance: stock market valuations and margins. And we used performance in what is commonly referred to as ESG (environmental, social, and governance) topics as a proxy for TSI. Among our findings:

  • Oil and gas companies that are top performers in certain ESG areas, such as reducing their impact on biodiversity, water, and ecology and maintaining process-oriented health and safety programs, see a 19% valuation premium compared with industry peers that perform at the median in those areas. And top performers in health and safety programs enjoy a 3.4-percentage-point premium on their EBITDA margins.
  • Biopharmaceutical companies that are the strongest performers in ESG areas such as promoting employee safety and preventing mistreatment of animals see a 12% premium on their valuation relative to median performers, and those that best provide expanded access to medicines have an EBITDA margin premium of 8.2 percentage points.
  • For retail and business banks, leaders in ESG areas such as integrating environmental factors into credit-risk analysis boast a 3% valuation premium, and those that are top performers in promoting financial inclusion see a 0.5-percentage-point premium on net income margins.  These numbers may not seem very big, but in a competitive industry like banking, even small differences matter a lot.
  • For consumer goods companies, the valuation premium is 11% for the strongest performers in ESG areas such as ensuring a responsible environmental footprint and conserving water. And the companies that do best in socially responsible sourcing in their supply chain have a gross margin premium of 4.8 percentage points relative to their average industry peers.

It’s long been understood that fundamental financials, growth rates, and financial risks are key to company valuations. But this rigorous analysis reveals that performance in the material, industry-specific nonfinancial areas that make up TSI also affects valuations.

The bottom line: holding all other factors equal, companies that outperform in important social and environmental areas achieve higher valuations and higher margins.

While it is becoming increasingly clear that TSI and TSR are connected—and, in fact, self-reinforcing—it is understandable that companies have focused largely on TSR. For one thing, they have been, and continue to be, under a lot of pressure to deliver short-term earnings. However, the world’s largest investors, the entities that have contributed to that pressure, are increasingly recognizing the importance of taking a longer-term perspective and the value of thinking in terms of TSI. In our conversations with and surveys of investors, 75% of them say they expect improved revenue and operational efficiency when companies pay attention to TSI. And many investors are incorporating the TSI lens into their own decision making. Global assets in the category of socially responsible investing hit nearly $23 trillion in 2016. That’s up $5 trillion from two years earlier and represents more than one-quarter of total global assets under management.

Success Stories

If the win-win of financial and societal benefits seems too good to be true, take a look at some companies that are leading the way.

Consider Airbnb. The company made a bold pledge in early 2017 to arrange short-term housing for 100,000 people in need over the next five years, including refugees, disaster survivors, relief workers, and other displaced people. As part of this effort, the company doesn’t charge fees to hosts when they support such individuals. In this way, Airbnb gives people an effective way to open their homes to those in dire need.

These efforts also support the company’s corporate strategy, a key element of which is increasing the number of hosts and guests on its platform. Almost 50% of hosts who offer to help during disasters were not previously registered with Airbnb. If the company had been focused solely on shareholder returns, it probably would not have identified the benefits—both to society and to the company's overall growth—in helping people in crisis.

For Standard Bank, a focus on creating positive societal impact has also yielded major dividends. In South Africa, government regulations mandate that banks direct 0.2% of their profit to black-owned small and midsize enterprises. Many banks do this simply by making donations to black-owned businesses, treating the program as mandated corporate philanthropy—essentially, a cost of doing business. But instead of making simple donations, Standard Bank invests the money into an independent trust that is used as collateral for loans to aspiring black entrepreneurs.

As a result, the bank leverages those funds, providing capital to many more entrepreneurs than a donation model ever would allow. And because the bank’s return on those loans is intertwined with the success of the entrepreneurs, Standard Bank also provides borrowers with technical advice and services. This increases the odds that the bank will do well financially and the entrepreneurs will succeed, gains that will help alleviate poverty and lift up communities. That model has proved successful, prompting Standard Bank to expand this financing approach to other kinds of small and midsize businesses.

Changing the Corporate Mindset

Business leaders may feel uncomfortable trumpeting such success stories. They may fear that talking about the financial and profit potential of their societal programs will make them seem heartless or even mercenary, and will thus devalue the good they are doing.

But that thinking must change. Companies are in the business of serving customers, profitably—they must do that to survive. Our research offers proof that one of the best ways for companies to ensure their own longevity is to find innovative, strategic, and profitable ways to solve the most challenging needs of society. When companies can tell a credible story about how they are doing that, they should broadcast it far and wide. 

The big global challenges we face will not be easily solved. There’s progress, but it is not fast or far reaching enough. We need corporations and investors, in partnership with NGOs and governments, to bring forward innovative strategies and capital to create TSR and TSI.

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Vice Chair, Social Impact, Climate & Sustainability; Managing Director & Senior Partner


Boston Consulting Group partners with leaders in business and society to tackle their most important challenges and capture their greatest opportunities. BCG was the pioneer in business strategy when it was founded in 1963. Today, we work closely with clients to embrace a transformational approach aimed at benefiting all stakeholders—empowering organizations to grow, build sustainable competitive advantage, and drive positive societal impact.

Our diverse, global teams bring deep industry and functional expertise and a range of perspectives that question the status quo and spark change. BCG delivers solutions through leading-edge management consulting, technology and design, and corporate and digital ventures. We work in a uniquely collaborative model across the firm and throughout all levels of the client organization, fueled by the goal of helping our clients thrive and enabling them to make the world a better place.

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For information or permission to reprint, please contact BCG at [email protected] . To find the latest BCG content and register to receive e-alerts on this topic or others, please visit bcg.com . Follow Boston Consulting Group on Facebook and X (formerly Twitter) .

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Quantum capital of the world: Emerging field that could solve ‘unsolvable’ problems

Posted: November 2, 2023 | Last updated: November 2, 2023

CHICAGO — Think of a corn maze as a problem. Think of the people in the maze as traditional computers trying to solve the problem. They’re limited to attempting one route at a time.

But what if they could try all of the potential routes at the same time?


That’s one way of thinking about the difference between our current computers and quantum computers.

The ones we use today process information using binary digits or “bits” that are either in the state of zero or one, handling one input, or one maze route, at a time.

A quantum computer processes more information faster, using quantum bits – or q-bits. The process is so fast and powerful because the data is in multiple states all at once.

“A little bit like spinning a coin on a table,” said Professor David Awschalom, a University of Chicago physicist and the director of Chicago Quantum Exchange. “Is it heads or is it tails? it’s a combination.”

Awschalom said it means instead of the single answer we might get from a classical computer, a quantum computer can try infinite answers to find the right way out of the maze, or the right way to solve any number of problems.

“So, it means you can address problems that are really unsolvable in today’s technology,” Awschalom said.


Now imagine if we could apply quantum mechanics, quantum technology, and quantum computing power to real-world problems.

We might find solutions to traffic congestion, identity theft, risk in investing, or detecting diseases like cancer in the earliest stages and then creating the pharmaceuticals to treat them.  

There are many more possible applications, according to Awschalom.

“How do you transport energy efficiently across a country?,” he said. “How does a package delivery service know the fastest way to deliver packages across the nation? So many problems that are very complex are reachable with quantum computers.”


Quantum technology has the potential to shape the future.  That’s why Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker is focused on making Chicago the quantum capital of the world.

PRITZKER: “It’s the next phase of technological development in the world, not just for the United States, this is a worldwide competition.”

WGN: “How is Chicago going to win this competition with the entire world?”

PRITZKER: “In order to make Chicago the hub of quantum development, you had to have the universities and laboratories willing to work together. The collaboration between them is vital and working with Purdue in Indiana, and University of Wisconsin in Madison, bringing all of that together and having Chicago as the center of that is vital for our future. That didn’t happen accidentally.”

WGN: “A phone call from the governor gets all the universities, gets the labs. You’re the guy who can pull it together.”

PRITZKER: “What I knew is that there are federal dollars, there are private dollars, there are foundation dollars that were available to a city, as state a locale that was making real investments and actually making progress in quantum mechanics and quantum computing. So if the state was willing to step forward with a major investment. We invested $200 million back in 2019, if the state was willing to do that, it would bring enormous attention and it would catalyze those other investments coming here.”


Illinois receives two of every $5 the federal government spends on quantum technology. It is home to four of the nation’s ten quantum centers, the most of any state.

“We are the chosen location for the United States government to put a significant amount of its dollars toward quantum development right here in Illinois.”

Private investment is also fueling Chicago’s quantum economy, according to Robin Ficke of World Business Chicago.  

FICKE: “If you look at private investment, we’re number two, so we actually really are the epicenter for interest in quantum.”

LOWE: “What are the factors that are making Chicago a quantum technology capital?”

FICKE: “There are three things. First, we have a deep bench of talent coming out of universities. then when people leave the universities, we have a robust ecosystem that they can interact with and finally when they’re ready to launch their quantum sensing products or computing products, we have a robust and diverse industry base that they can interact with.”

One company on the cutting edge of Chicago’s economic present is in a building that symbolizes the city’s economic past – the Chicago Board of Trade.

At the offices of Infleqtion, 20 employees are building the software for quantum computers. Pranav Gokhale, the company’s vice president of quantum software, says he always thought he’d start a quantum tech company in Silicon Valley.

“But a couple of years into grad school I realized that this is where we’d want to build a company, this is where the talent was, this is where technology [was], and where the business development was,” Gokhale said.  

Chicago is the leader in U.S.-based quantum investments. It ranks only behind California for the number of quantum start-up companies.

“Chicago is becoming the center of that industrial revolution for what quantum technology will bring,” Gokhale said.

The Infleqtion team was celebrating the launch of its new software product this fall.


Technology industry experts have said the key to any region’s success is the available workforce, and that is where Illinois shines, ranking second in the nation for producing Ph.D. graduates in quantum-related fields.  

Swathi Chandrika, is working at a University of Chicago lab three stories underground. She and other doctoral students are fine-tuning experiments and building the devices that will connect to a 124-mile fiber-optic network running from the university’s campus on Chicago’s South Side to two federally funded labs in the suburbs: Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

“We’ve built one of the first quantum links or quantum networks between this building, where you’re standing right now, downtown Hyde Park, and Argonne National Laboratories,” Awschalom said. “We’re extending it throughout the state right now, and the idea is can we use this as a testbed for companies to come, bring their technology, try it in the real-world network. There is weather in Chicago, there are big temperature changes, we use optical fibers to transmit quantum information and those change with temperature. Change with vibrations on the Eisenhower (Expressway), right? On the tollways? How does quantum information work in the real world? These are things on which we’re working together with industry to explore.”


Building quantum connections is also a focus of World Business Chicago CEO Michael Fassnacht.

“Quantum will be ultimately the foundation in 10, 15, 20 years of how we live our lives and how we do business, because it will be the foundation of any computing activity that’s happening,” Fassnacht said. “The great thing about quantum is, if you do it right, you solve real problems that face mankind. It’s not building another dating app, like Silicon Valley likes to do.”

Quantum has become a buzzword in popular culture from the show ‘Quantum Leap’ to Marvel’s movie ‘Quantummania.’ It seems like a concept too big to grasp, but quantum fields explore the smallest particles in the universe. “Technology on the scale of microns and sub-microns even down to the nanometer, almost down to the atomic scale,” Awschalom said.

It’s at that level where those unusual rules of Quantum mechanics exist, the ones that allow for all those possibilities to ‘solve the maze,’ because data exists in two states at once, like the spinning coin.


For Pritzker, who is leading Illinois into the quantum future, it’s a story from the not-so-distant past that should guide the state’s next steps.

“I want to analogize it to something else that happened in Illinois, about 30 years ago,” Pritzker said. “That was the development of the browser for the internet.”

It was known as “Mosaic” – the first internet browser to incorporate graphics, text, and hypertext or “links” to other pages. It was the precursor to Netscape, Explorer, and Chrome. It was developed at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 1992.

But Mosaic didn’t stay in Illinois, and neither did other tech start-ups.

“Making sure we don’t lose out on this next great opportunity,” Pritzker said. “In Illinois, we lost out 30 years ago at the University of Illinois when the browser got up and left and went to Silicon Valley, when YouTube and PayPal got up and left the University of Illinois and went to California. That’s not happening now. Quantum is the next big thing, and companies are coming to Chicago to take advantage of that.”  

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to WGN-TV.

Quantum capital of the world: Emerging field that could solve ‘unsolvable’ problems

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Your startup should solve an impossibly hard problem

Mediocre founders aren’t able to articulate what’s hard about the problem they’re solving.

problem solving in corporate world

I’m spotting a worrying trend among startup founders who seem to think that running a startup is effectively a get-rich-quick scheme. Apart from that mindset being wrong and naive, I suspect there’s something a lot more insidious at play here: misunderstanding on a fundamental level what startups are for.

Any business exists to exchange money for value. Your local lemonade stand does that: You have a dollar and you’re thirsty on a hot summer day? You can exchange that dollar for a drink (and the joy of seeing entrepreneurship in action, if that’s your jam).

The thing is, most obvious problems that have obvious solutions don’t need startups. Those markets are very well covered by incumbents. Where tech startups come in, then, is overlaying the desire to solve a problem with a hunger to disrupt: Using an unfair advantage (usually technology, but it’s also possible to disrupt other aspects of the value chain, such as business models, logistics or pricing models) and a bold idea means that startups can take a stab at solving a major issue.

If the problem you are solving isn’t inherently hard, that’s a huge problem in itself, for a number of reasons.

The Borgen Project

Top Problems in the World That Can Be Solved

problems in the world that can be solved

Top Problems that can be Solved

The Copenhagen Consensus Center, a think tank that researches the smartest solutions to global issues, organized a panel of five distinguished economists in 2012 to set priorities for fighting the 10 top problems in the world that can be solved:

  • Armed Conflict
  • Chronic Disease
  • Infectious Disease
  • Population Growth
  • Biodiversity
  • Climate Change
  • Hunger and Malnutrition
  • Natural Disasters
  • Water and Sanitation

The panel was asked to describe the best ways to advance global welfare, specifically that of developing countries. The experts then assembled a prioritized list of thirty solutions.

Solutions to the World’s Issues

The number one solution was “bundled interventions to reduce undernutrition in pre-schoolers” and addressed the challenge of hunger and education. Some other proposals high on the list were subsidies for malaria combination treatment and expanding childhood immunization coverage.

The group of experts covered topics besides health, with solutions ranging from investing in early warning systems for natural disasters to increased funding for green energy.

With this list in mind, world leaders at the U.N. Sustainable Development Summit adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Sept. 2015. On Jan. 1, 2016, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) replaced the eight Millennium Development Goals of 2015.

The new 17 SDGs were to:

  • End poverty
  • End hunger and improve nutrition and sustainable agriculture
  • Promote well being for all ages
  • Ensure equitable and quality education
  • Achieve gender equality
  • Ensure water and sanitation for all
  • Ensure access to modern energy for all
  • Promote sustainable economic growth and productive employment
  • Build resilient and innovative infrastructure
  • Reduce inequality
  • Make settlements safe, resilient and sustainable
  • Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  • Take urgent action to combat climate change
  • Conserve and sustainably use Earth’s water
  • Promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems and forests, and halt and reverse land degradation and biodiversity loss
  • Promote peaceful societies, provide access to justice and build effective, accountable institutions
  • Implement and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development

A New Set of Problems

80,000 Hours, an independent nonprofit organization that researches how graduates can make the biggest difference possible with their careers, came up with another list defining problems in the world that can be solved. Drawing from research from groups such as the University of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute and the Copenhagen Consensus Center, 80,000 Hours created a framework to rate global issues.

The organization based its scoring on how solving the problem would reduce the risk of extinction , raise the global economic output, increase the income among the world’s poorest 2 billion people and save years of healthy life. It also used factors like the amount of good done compared to the percent of the problem solved and the number of resources required.

Risks from artificial intelligence topped 80,000 Hours’ list  out of 11. Also on the list were biosecurity, developing world health and climate change. Other issues 80,000 Hours has yet to rate include science policy and infrastructure, cheap green energy and promoting human rights. The group indicates that improving health would be more beneficial than topics like empowering the poor and education.

Due to how differently each solution overlaps with others there are various ways to rank a list of top problems in the world that can be solved. Thankfully, experts are doing their best to target issues to focus on and world leaders are taking calculated steps to implement solutions to such issues.

– Connie Loo

Photo: Flickr

“The Borgen Project is an incredible nonprofit organization that is addressing poverty and hunger and working towards ending them.”

-The Huffington Post

Inside the borgen project.

  • Board of Directors

Get Smarter

  • Global Poverty 101
  • Global Poverty… The Good News
  • Global Poverty & U.S. Jobs
  • Global Poverty and National Security
  • Innovative Solutions to Poverty
  • Global Poverty & Aid FAQ’s

Ways to Help

  • Call Congress
  • Email Congress
  • 30 Ways to Help
  • Volunteer Ops
  • Internships
  • 6.1 Problem Solving to Find Entrepreneurial Solutions
  • Introduction
  • 1.1 Entrepreneurship Today
  • 1.2 Entrepreneurial Vision and Goals
  • 1.3 The Entrepreneurial Mindset
  • Review Questions
  • Discussion Questions
  • Case Questions
  • Suggested Resources
  • 2.1 Overview of the Entrepreneurial Journey
  • 2.2 The Process of Becoming an Entrepreneur
  • 2.3 Entrepreneurial Pathways
  • 2.4 Frameworks to Inform Your Entrepreneurial Path
  • 3.1 Ethical and Legal Issues in Entrepreneurship
  • 3.2 Corporate Social Responsibility and Social Entrepreneurship
  • 3.3 Developing a Workplace Culture of Ethical Excellence and Accountability
  • 4.1 Tools for Creativity and Innovation
  • 4.2 Creativity, Innovation, and Invention: How They Differ
  • 4.3 Developing Ideas, Innovations, and Inventions
  • 5.1 Entrepreneurial Opportunity
  • 5.2 Researching Potential Business Opportunities
  • 5.3 Competitive Analysis
  • 6.2 Creative Problem-Solving Process
  • 6.3 Design Thinking
  • 6.4 Lean Processes
  • 7.1 Clarifying Your Vision, Mission, and Goals
  • 7.2 Sharing Your Entrepreneurial Story
  • 7.3 Developing Pitches for Various Audiences and Goals
  • 7.4 Protecting Your Idea and Polishing the Pitch through Feedback
  • 7.5 Reality Check: Contests and Competitions
  • 8.1 Entrepreneurial Marketing and the Marketing Mix
  • 8.2 Market Research, Market Opportunity Recognition, and Target Market
  • 8.3 Marketing Techniques and Tools for Entrepreneurs
  • 8.4 Entrepreneurial Branding
  • 8.5 Marketing Strategy and the Marketing Plan
  • 8.6 Sales and Customer Service
  • 9.1 Overview of Entrepreneurial Finance and Accounting Strategies
  • 9.2 Special Funding Strategies
  • 9.3 Accounting Basics for Entrepreneurs
  • 9.4 Developing Startup Financial Statements and Projections
  • 10.1 Launching the Imperfect Business: Lean Startup
  • 10.2 Why Early Failure Can Lead to Success Later
  • 10.3 The Challenging Truth about Business Ownership
  • 10.4 Managing, Following, and Adjusting the Initial Plan
  • 10.5 Growth: Signs, Pains, and Cautions
  • 11.1 Avoiding the “Field of Dreams” Approach
  • 11.2 Designing the Business Model
  • 11.3 Conducting a Feasibility Analysis
  • 11.4 The Business Plan
  • 12.1 Building and Connecting to Networks
  • 12.2 Building the Entrepreneurial Dream Team
  • 12.3 Designing a Startup Operational Plan
  • 13.1 Business Structures: Overview of Legal and Tax Considerations
  • 13.2 Corporations
  • 13.3 Partnerships and Joint Ventures
  • 13.4 Limited Liability Companies
  • 13.5 Sole Proprietorships
  • 13.6 Additional Considerations: Capital Acquisition, Business Domicile, and Technology
  • 13.7 Mitigating and Managing Risks
  • 14.1 Types of Resources
  • 14.2 Using the PEST Framework to Assess Resource Needs
  • 14.3 Managing Resources over the Venture Life Cycle
  • 15.1 Launching Your Venture
  • 15.2 Making Difficult Business Decisions in Response to Challenges
  • 15.3 Seeking Help or Support
  • 15.4 Now What? Serving as a Mentor, Consultant, or Champion
  • 15.5 Reflections: Documenting the Journey
  • A | Suggested Resources

Portions of the material in this section are based on original work by Geoffrey Graybeal and produced with support from the Rebus Community. The original is freely available under the terms of the CC BY 4.0 license at https://press.rebus.community/media-innovation-and-entrepreneurship/.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Define problem solving in the context of entrepreneurship
  • Describe and compare the adaptive model and the innovative model of problem solving
  • Identify the skills entrepreneurs need for effective problem solving
  • Identify types of problem solvers

As you’ve learned, entrepreneurs often visualize an opportunity gap, a gap between what exists and what could exist, as Hirabayashi and Lidey did with Shine. Entrepreneurial problem solving is the process of using innovation and creative solutions to close that gap by resolving societal, business, or technological problems. Sometimes, personal problems can lead to entrepreneurial opportunities if validated in the market. The entrepreneur visualizes the prospect of filling the gap with an innovative solution that might entail the revision of a product or the creation of an entirely new product. In any case, the entrepreneur approaches the problem-solving process in various ways. This chapter is more about problem solving as it pertains to the entrepreneur’s thought process and approach rather than on problem solving in the sense of opportunity recognition and filling those gaps with new products.

For example, as we read in Identifying Entrepreneurial Opportunity , Sara Blakely (as shown in Figure 6.2 ) saw a need for body contouring and smoothing undergarments one day in the late 1990s when she was getting dressed for a party and couldn’t find what she needed to give her a silhouette she’d be pleased with in a pair of slacks. She saw a problem: a market need. But her problem-solving efforts are what drove her to turn her solution (Spanx undergarments) into a viable product. Those efforts came from her self-admitted can-do attitude: “It’s really important to be resourceful and scrappy—a glass half-full mindset.” 1 Her efforts at creating a new undergarment met resistance with hosiery executives, most of whom were male and out of touch with their female consumers. The hosiery owner who decided to help Blakely initially passed on the idea until running it by his daughters and realizing she was on to something. That something became Spanx , and today, Blakely is a successful entrepreneur. 2

Photo of three people sitting on a stage, talking, with Sara Blakely on the right.

Before getting into the heart of this chapter, we need to make a distinction: Decision making is different from problem solving . A decision is needed to continue or smooth a process affecting the operation of a firm. It can be intuitive or might require research and a long period of consideration. Problem solving , however, is more direct. It entails the solution of some problem where a gap exists between a current state and a desired state. Entrepreneurs are problem solvers who offer solutions using creativity or innovative ventures that exploit opportunities. This chapter focuses on different approaches to problem solving and need recognition that help potential entrepreneurs come up with ideas and refine those ideas.

Two Problem Solving Models: Adaptive and Innovative

There are two prominent established problem-solving models: adaptive and innovative . A renowned British psychologist, Michael Kirton , developed the Kirton Adaption-Innovation (KAI) Inventory to measure an individual’s style of problem solving. 3 Problem-solving preferences are dependent on the personality characteristics of originality, conformity, and efficiency, according to Kirton. The KAI inventory identifies an individual’s problem-solving approach by measuring agreement with statements that align with characteristics, such as the ability to produce many novel ideas, to follow rules and get along in groups, and to systematically orient daily behavior. The results categorize an individual as an innovator or an adaptor. Innovators are highly original, do not like to conform, and value efficiency less than adaptors.

The first and more conservative approach an entrepreneur may use to solve problems is the adaptive model. The adaptive model seeks solutions for problems in ways that are tested and known to be effective. An adaptive model accepts the problem definition and is concerned with resolving problems rather than finding them. This approach seeks greater efficiency while aiming at continuity and stability. The second and more creative approach is the innovative model of entrepreneurial problem solving, which uses techniques that are unknown to the market and that bring advantage to an organization. An innovative problem-solving style challenges the problem definition, discovers problems and avenues for their solutions, and questions existing assumptions—in a nutshell, it does things differently. It uses outside-the-box thinking and searches for novel solutions. Novelty is a shared trait of creative entrepreneurship, and it’s why entrepreneurs gravitate toward this method of problem solving. According to Dr. Shaun M. Powell , a senior lecturer at the University of Wollongong, Australia: “Creative entrepreneurs are notable for a distinctive management style that is based on intuition, informality and rapid decision making, whereas the more conventional thinking styles are not in accord with the unique attributes of creative entrepreneurs.” 4 This way of problem solving doesn’t alter an existing product. It is the creation of something entirely new.

For example, healthcare facilities have long been known as a source of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a deadly infection that can have long-term effects on patients. Vital Vio , led by Colleen Costello , has developed white light technology that effectively disinfects healthcare facilities by targeting a molecule specific to bacteria. The light, safe to humans, can burn constantly to kill regenerative bacteria. An adaptive problem-solving model would seek to minimize harm of MRSA within a hospital—to respond to it—whereas the Vital Vio is an entirely new technique that seeks to eliminate it. Adaptive solutions to MRSA include established processes and protocols for prevention, such as having doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers clean their hands with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand rub before and after patient care, testing patients to see if they have MRSA on their skin, cleaning hospital rooms and medical equipment, and washing and drying clothes and bed linens in the warmest recommended temperatures. 5

Link to Learning

Visit Inc. Magazine for support and advice for up-and-coming startups to learn more. Examples of how “Dorm Room” entrepreneurs spot and pursue opportunities are shared along with tips and advice for making your startup a success.

Problem-Solving Skills

While identifying problems is a necessary part of the origin of the entrepreneurial process, managing problems is an entirely different aspect once a venture is off the ground and running. An entrepreneur does not have the luxury of avoiding problems and is often responsible for all problem solving in a startup or other form of business. There are certain skills that entrepreneurs possess that make them particularly good problem solvers. Let’s examine each skill (shown in Figure 6.3 ) .

Entrepreneurial problem-solving skills include critical thinking, communication, decisiveness, ability to analyze data, business and industry awareness, resourcefulness, evaluate details, and ability to act on solutions.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is the complex analysis of a problem or issue with the goal of solving the problem or making a decision. The entrepreneur analyzes and peels away the layers of a problem to find the core of an issue facing a business. The entrepreneur focuses on the heart of the problem and responds reasonably and openly to suggestions for solving it. Critical thinking is not only important for developing entrepreneurial ideas: it is a sought-after asset in education and employment. Entrepreneur Rebecca Kantar dropped out of Harvard in 2015 to found the tech startup Imbellus , which aims to replace standardized college admissions tests like the SAT with interactive scenarios that test critical-thinking skills. Many standardized tests may include multiple choice questions asking for the answer to a straightforward knowledge question or math problem. Kantar seeks to create tests that are more concerned with the analytic ability and reasoning that goes into the process of solving the problem. Imbellus says it aims to test “how people think,” not just what they know. The platform, which has not yet launched, will use simulations for its user assessments. 6

Read more about problem solving and EnterpriseWorks/Vita’s story at Harvard Business Review .


Communication skills , the ability to communicate messages effectively to an intended recipient, are the skills entrepreneurs use to pool resources for the purposes of investigating solutions leading to innovative problem solving and competitive advantage. Good communication allows for the free association of ideas between entrepreneurs and businesses. It can illustrate a problem area or a shared vision, and seeks stakeholder buy-in from various constituencies. Networking and communication within an industry allow the entrepreneur to recognize the position of an enterprise in the market and work toward verbalizing solutions that move an organization beyond its current state. By “verbalizing,” we mean communication from and with the company/entity. Internal communications include company emails, newsletters, presentations, and reports that can set strategic goals and objectives, and report on what has been accomplished and what goals and objectives remain, so that employees within an organization are knowledgeable and can work on solving problems that remain within the organization. External communications could include press releases, blogs and websites, social media, public speeches, and presentations that explain the company’s solutions to problems. They could also be investor pitches complete with business plans and financial projections.

Ideation exercises, such as brainstorming sessions (discussed in Creativity, Innovation, and Invention , are good communication tools that entrepreneurs can use to generate solutions to problems. Another such tool is a hackathon —an event, usually hosted by a tech company or organization, which brings together programmers and workers with other degrees of specialization within the company, community, or organization to collaborate on a project over a short period of time. These can last from twenty-four hours to a few days over a weekend. A hackathon can be an internal company-wide initiative or an external event that brings community participants together. A business model canvas , which is covered in Business Model and Plan and other activities outlined in other chapters can be used internally or externally to identify problems and work toward creating a viable solution.

Networking is an important manifestation of useful communication. What better method is there of presenting one’s concept, gaining funding and buy-in, and marketing for the startup than through building a network of individuals willing to support your venture? A network may consist of potential employees, customers, board members, outside advisors, investors, or champions (people who just love your product) with no direct vested interest. Social networks consist of weak ties and strong ties. Sociologist Mark Granovetter studied such networks back in the 1970s, and his findings still apply today, even if we include social media networks in the definition too. Weak ties facilitate flow of information and community organization, he said, whereas strong ties represent strong connections among close friends, family members, and supportive coworkers. 7 Strong ties require more work to maintain than weak ties (as illustrated by the strong lines and weak dotted lines in Figure 6.4 ) and in a business context, they don’t lead to many new opportunities. Weak ties, in contrast, do open doors in that they act as bridges to other weak ties within functional areas or departments that you might not have had access to directly or through strong ties. 8

Graphic of different people, some connected via solid lines, and some connected via dotted lines.

In fact, many young entrepreneurs, including tech entrepreneur Oliver Isaacs , realize college is a great place to begin building teams. Isaacs is the founder of viral opinion network Amirite.com , which is widely credited as the place where Internet memes started and online slang got a foothold. 9 Amirite.com consists of a large network of pages and partnerships on Facebook and Instagram that reach 15 million users each month. Isaacs recommends using your alumni network to build a team and customer base for your own venture because you never know if you’re talking to a future employee or partner.

Sharing of ideas and resources is highly valued in the entrepreneurial process. Communication is a vital skill in problem solving because the ability to identify and articulate the problem (define the problem space) is necessary to adequately address a problem. A problem can be too vague or broad or narrow. Thus, communicating the problem is important, as is conveying the solution.


Decisiveness is as it sounds: the ability to make a quick, effective decision, not letting too much time go by in the process. Entrepreneurs must be productive, even in the face of risk. They often rely on intuition as well as on hard facts in making a choice. They ask what problem needs to be solved, think about solutions, and then consider the means necessary to implement an idea. And the decisions must be informed with research.

For example, as explained in Adam Grant’s book The Originals , the co-founders of Warby Parker, a venture-backed startup focused on the eyewear industry, started their company while they were graduate students. At the time they knew little about the industry, but after conducting some detailed research, they learned that the industry was dominated by one major player—Luxottica. They used this information and other data to refine their strategy and business model (focusing mainly on value, quality, and convenience via an online channel). By the time they decided to launch the business, they had thought through the key details, and they attained rapid early success. Today Warby Parker has over 100 retail stores in the US, is profitable, and is valued at almost $2 billion.

Decisiveness is the catapult to progress. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos preaches the importance of decisiveness throughout his organization. Bezos believes that decisiveness can even lead to innovation. Bezos advocates for making decisions after obtaining 70 percent of the information you need to do so: “Being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure,” Bezos wrote in a 2017 annual letter to stockholders. 10

Read this LinkedIn blog post on decisiveness to learn more.

Ability to Analyze Data

Data analysis is the process of analyzing data and modeling it into a structure that leads to innovative conclusions. Identifying Entrepreneurial Opportunity covered much of the sources of data that entrepreneurs might seek. But it is one thing to amass information and statistics. It is another to make sense of that data, to use it to fill a market need or forecast a trend to come. Successful founders know how to pose questions about and make meaning out of information. And if they can’t do that themselves, they know how to bring in experts who can.

In addition to public sources of broad data, a business can collect data on customers when they interact with the company on social media or when they visit the company website, especially if they complete a credit card transaction. They can collect their own specific data on their own customers, including location, name, activity, and how they got to the website. Analyzing these data will give the entrepreneur a better idea about the interested audience’s demographic.

In entrepreneurship, analyzing data can help with opportunity recognition, creation, and assessment by analyzing data in a variety of ways. Entrepreneurs can explore and leverage different data sources to identify and compare “attractive” opportunities, since such analyses can describe what has happened, why it happened, and how likely it is to happen again in the future. In business in general, analytics is used to help managers/entrepreneurs gain improved insight about their business operations/emerging ventures and make better, fact-based decisions.

Analytics can be descriptive, predictive, or prescriptive. Descriptive analytics involves understanding what has happened and what is happening; predictive analytics uses data from past performance to estimate future performance; and prescriptive analytics uses the results of descriptive and predictive analytics to make decisions. Data analysis can be applied to manage customer relations, inform financial and marketing activities, make pricing decisions, manage the supply chain, and plan for human resource needs, among other functions of a venture. In addition to statistical analysis, quantitative methods, and computer models to aid decision-making, companies are also increasingly using artificial intelligence algorithms to analyze data and make quick decisions.

Understanding of Business and Industry

Entrepreneurs need sound understanding of markets and industries. Often times, they are already working in a large organization when they see growth opportunities or inefficiencies in a market. The employee gains a deep understanding of the industry at hand. If the employee considers a possible solution for a problem, this solution might become the basis for a new business.

For example, consider a marketing agency that used traditional marketing for thirty years. This agency had an established clientele. An executive in the organization began studying social media analytics and social media. The executive approached the owner of the business to change processes and begin serving clients through social media, but the owner refused. Clients within the agency began to clamor for exposure on social media. The marketing executive investigated the possibility of building an agency in her locale servicing clients who wish to utilize social media. The marketing executive left the organization and started her own agency (providing, of course, that this is in compliance with any noncompete clauses in her contract). Her competitive advantage was familiarity with both traditional and social media venues. Later, the original agency started floundering because it did not offer social media advertising. Our intrepid executive purchased the agency to gain the clientele and serve those wishing to move away from traditional marketing.

A similar experience occurred for entrepreneur Katie Witkin . After working in traditional marketing roles, the University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, pictured in Figure 6.5 , left agency life behind four years out of college to cofound her own company, AGW Group . In 2009, Witkin had been interning at a music marketing agency that didn’t have a social media department. She knew, both from her time at college and from observing industry trends, that social media was changing the way companies connected with customers. For her own venture, she expanded the focus to all supporting brands to manage all things digital. Today, the cultural and marketing communications agency has fifteen employees and big-name clients ranging from HBO to Red Bull. 11

Photo of Katie Witkin.


Resourcefulness is the ability to discover clever solutions to obstacles. Sherrie Campbell , a psychologist, author, and frequent contributor to Entrepreneur magazine on business topics, put it this way:

“There is not a more useful or important trait to possess than resourcefulness in the pursuit of success. Resourcefulness is a mindset, and is especially relevant when the goals you have set are difficult to achieve or you cannot envision a clear path to get to where you desire to go. With a resourcefulness mindset you are driven to find a way. An attitude of resourcefulness inspires out-of-the-box thinking, the generation of new ideas, and the ability to visualize all the possible ways to achieve what you desire. Resourcefulness turns you into a scrappy, inventive and enterprising entrepreneur. It places you a cut above the rest.” 12

Entrepreneurs start thinking about a business venture or startup by talking to people and procuring experts to help create, fund, and begin a business. Entrepreneurs are risk takers, passionate about new endeavors. If they don’t have a college degree or a great deal of business experience, they understand there are many resources available to support them in the endeavor, such as the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) and the Small Business Administration (SBA) . There are many sources available to fund the business with little or no debt and options, as you will see in the chapter on Entrepreneurial Finance and Accounting . The entrepreneur follows a vision and researches opportunities to move toward a dream.

For example, in the late 1990s, Bill McBean and his business partner Billy Sterett had an opportunity to buy an underperforming auto dealership that would make their company the dominant one in the market. Neither wanting to take cash from other ventures nor wanting to borrow more money and tie themselves to more debt, the entrepreneurs were resourceful by finding another path forward to obtaining the money necessary for the acquisition they both coveted. They changed banks and renegotiated their banking payback requirements, lowering their interest payments, reducing fees, and lowering their monthly payments, ultimately freeing up a significant amount of cash that allowed them to buy the new company. 13

Types of Problem Solvers

Entrepreneurs have an insatiable appetite for problem solving. This drive motivates them to find a resolution when a gap in a product or service occurs. They recognize opportunities and take advantage of them. There are several types of entrepreneurial problem solvers, including self-regulators, theorists, and petitioners.

Self-Regulating Problem Solvers

Self-regulating problem solvers are autonomous and work on their own without external influence. They have the ability to see a problem, visualize a possible solution to the problem, and seek to devise a solution, as Figure 6.6 illustrates. The solution may be a risk, but a self-regulating problem solver will recognize, evaluate, and mitigate the risk. For example, an entrepreneur has programmed a computerized process for a client, but in testing it, finds the program continually falls into a loop, meaning it gets stuck in a cycle and doesn’t progress. Rather than wait for the client to find the problem, the entrepreneur searches the code for the error causing the loop, immediately edits it, and delivers the corrected program to the customer. There is immediate analysis, immediate correction, and immediate implementation. The self-regulating problem solvers’ biggest competitive advantage is the speed with which they recognize and provide solutions to problems.

Cartoon showing someone identifying a problem, thinking of possible solutions, and then speaking to someone sitting at a desk about implementing the solution.

Theorist Problem Solvers

Theorist problem solvers see a problem and begin to consider a path toward solving the problem using a theory. Theorist problem solvers are process oriented and systematic. While managers may start with a problem and focus on an outcome with little consideration of a means to an end, entrepreneurs may see a problem and begin to build a path with what is known, a theory, toward an outcome. That is, the entrepreneur proceeds through the steps to solve the problem and then builds on the successes, rejects the failures, and works toward the outcome by experimenting and building on known results. At this point, the problem solver may not know the outcome, but a solution will arise as experiments toward a solution occur. Figure 6.7 shows this process.

For example, if we consider Marie Curie as an entrepreneur, Curie worked toward the isolation of an element. As different approaches to isolating the element failed, Curie recorded the failures and attempted other possible solutions. Curie’s failed theories eventually revealed the outcome for the isolation of radium. Like Curie, theorists use considered analysis, considered corrective action, and a considered implementation process. When time is of the essence, entrepreneurs should understand continual experimentation slows the problem-solving process.

Cartoon showing a person identifying a problem, implementing a theory as represented by a checklist, and arriving at a solution by presenting a graph.

Petitioner Problem Solvers

Petitioner problem solvers ( Figure 6.8 ) see a problem and ask others for solution ideas. This entrepreneur likes to consult a person who has “been there and done that.” The petitioner might also prefer to solve the problem in a team environment. Petitioning the entrepreneurial team for input ensures that the entrepreneur is on a consensus-driven path. This type of problem solving takes the longest to complete because the entrepreneur must engage in a democratic process that allows all members on the team to have input. The process involves exploration of alternatives for the ultimate solution. In organizational decision-making, for example, comprehensiveness is a measure of the extent a firm attempts to be inclusive or exhaustive in its decision-making. Comprehensiveness can be gauged by the number of scheduled meetings, the process by which information is sought, the process by which input is obtained from external sources, the number of employees involved, the use of specialized consultants and the functional expertise of the people involved, the years of historical data review, and the assignment of primary responsibility, among other factors. Comprehensive decision-making would be an example of a petitioner problem-solving style, as it seeks input from a vast number of team members.

A charette —a meeting to resolve conflicts and identify solutions—is another example that employs a petitioner problem-solving approach. Often times, a developer of a new project might hold a community charette to aid in the design of a project, hoping to gain approval from elected officials. In the building example, this could consist of the developer and his team of architects, project designers, and people with expertise in the project working alongside community members, business executives, elected officials, or representatives like staff members or citizen-appointed boards like a planning board. Such an activity is representative of a petitioner problem-solving approach, as opposed to a developer representative designing the project with no input from anyone else.

Cartoon of a person identifying a problem, discussing the problem with others, and finding a mutually agreeable solution.

In summary, there is no right or wrong style of problem solving; each problem solver must rely on the instincts that best drive innovation. Further, they must remember that not all problem-solving methods work in every situation. They must be willing to adapt their own preference to the situation to maximize efficiency and ensure they find an effective solution. Attempting to force a problem-solving style may prevent an organization from finding the best solution. While general entrepreneurial problem-solving skills such as critical thinking, decisiveness, communication, and the ability to analyze data will likely be used on a regular basis in your life and entrepreneurial journey, other problem-solving skills and the approach you take will depend on the problem as it arises.

There are a number of resources online that can help analyze your problem-solving abilities. Mindtools.com is one such resource. These are useful to learn your general problem-solving tendencies before being called upon to apply them in a real-world setting. One of the problem-solving techniques available from mindtools.com offers that problems can be addressed from six different perspectives. Called CATWOE , the approach is an acronym for Customers, Actors (people within the organization), Transformative, Worldwide, Owner, and Environment (organizational).

Learn more about the CATWOE technique for problem solving.

  • 1 Helen Lock. “‘I Put My Butt on the Line’: How Spanx Took Over the World.” The Guardian. July 11, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/small-business-network/2016/jul/11/put-butt-on-the-line-how-spanx-world
  • 2 Gary Keller. “Business Success Series, Part 1: Sara Blakely-Spanx.” The One Thing. n.d. https://www.the1thing.com/blog/the-one-thing/business-success-series-part-1-sara-blakely-spanx/
  • 3 “Characteristics of Adaptors and Innovators.” Kirton KAI Inventory Tool . n.d. http://pubs.acs.org/subscribe/archive/ci/31/i11/html/11hipple_box3.ci.html
  • 4 Shaun Powell. “The Management and Consumption of Organisational Creativity.” Journal of Consumer Marketing 25, no. 3 (2008): 158–166.
  • 5 N.C Healthcare-Associated Infections Prevention Program. Healthcare-Associated Infections in North Carolina: 2014 Annual Report, Healthcare Consumer Version. April 2015. https://epi.dph.ncdhhs.gov/cd/hai/figures/hai_apr2015_consumers_annual.pdf
  • 6 Romesh Ratnesar. “What If Instead of Taking the SAT You Got to Play a Video Game?” Bloomberg BusinessWeek. March 19, 2019. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2019-03-19/a-harvard-dropout-s-plan-to-fix-college-admissions-with-video-games
  • 7 Mark Granovetter. “The Strength of Weak Ties.” American Journal of Sociology 5 (1973): 1360–1380.
  • 8 Jacob Morgan. “Why Every Employee Should Be Building Weak Ties at Work.” Forbes. March 11, 2014. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jacobmorgan/2014/03/11/every-employee-weak-ties-work/#277851063168
  • 9 John White. “Top UK Influencer Oliver Isaacs Reveals What It Takes to Go Viral.” Inc . August 6, 2017. https://www.inc.com/john-white/top-uk-influencer-oliver-isaacs-reveals-what-it-ta.html
  • 10 Erik Larson. “How Jeff Bezos Uses Faster Better Decisions to Keep Amazon Innovating.” Forbes . September 24, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/eriklarson/2018/09/24/how-jeff-bezos-uses-faster-better-decisions-to-keep-amazon-innovating/#492c351b7a65
  • 11 Stephanie Schomer. “How Getting Laid Off Empowered This Entrepreneur to Start Her Own Award-Winning Marketing Agency.” Entrepreneur. January 15, 2019. https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/326212
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  • Main content

Pigeons solve problems the same way AI does, study says

  • The way pigeons problem solve is very similar to AI, researchers say.
  • Pigeons use the same "brute force" method often seen in artificial intelligence.
  • Researchers found that this method helps pigeons perform certain types of tasks even better than humans.

Insider Today

It turns out the "birds aren't real" people may have had a point after all.

Researchers at Ohio State University and the University of Iowa found that pigeons use a "brute force" method of problem-solving, similar to what is found in artificial intelligence, according to a news release .

Brandon Turner, a psychology professor at Ohio State, said researchers found "really strong evidence that the mechanisms guiding pigeon learning are remarkably similar to the same principles that guide modern machine learning and AI," according to the release.

Researchers showed the birds a stimulus, including lines of various widths, concentric rings, and sectioned rings, which the bird had to categorize by pecking a button on the left or right.  If it got the answer correct, it received a treat, the release says.

Through trial and error, the pigeons improved their performance from 55% to 95% correct answers in one easier task, according to the release. Researchers performed the same tests using AI and found the AI also learned to decrease its amount of mistakes.

The study, published in the journal IScience , says that pigeons have advanced cognitive and attentional processes and can solve an "exceptionally broad" range of categorization tasks

Turner said the findings indicate that pigeons are natural "incredibly efficient" learners who cannot generalize information the way humans can, according to the release.

According to Turner, pigeons use associative learning, which connects two things, such as dogs understanding that they will receive a treat when they sit. Typically, associative learning is thought to be "too primitive" to do things like visual categorization, Turner said in the release, but apparently not for pigeons.

The researchers said humans tend to give up on tasks like those given to the pigeons when they can't come up with rules to make sense of the tasks.

"Pigeons don't try to make rules. They just use this brute force way of trial and error and associative learning and in some specific types of tasks that helps them perform better than humans," Turner said.

He noted that humans often "celebrate how smart we are that we designed artificial intelligence; at the same time we disparage pigeons as dim-witted animals."

"But the learning principles that guide the behaviors of these AI machines are pretty similar to what pigeons use," Turner said.

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