5 Problem-solving Skills Every Entrepreneur Needs
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During my years in the industry as a mentor, teacher, solopreneur and serial entrepreneur, I’ve met many other entrepreneurs across the world. Some have succeeded monetarily beyond their own wildest dreams, many have failed, and many of the latter have picked themselves up and persevered to enjoy eventual success.
It’s been a particular hobby of mine to study what helps the ones who succeed. What particular traits or skills do they embody that have separated them from the ones who don’t? I realised very quickly that for entrepreneurs to succeed, they need to have outstanding skills in the area of problem solving; whether in the space of employees and suppliers, whether with customers, whether with the ecosystem at large, or even solving mundane problems such as lack of water in the office. However, problem solving is an umbrella term that can cover a large variety of skills. Here are the particular problem-solving skills you will need to succeed as an entrepreneur.
Spirit of enquiry
The entrepreneur’s quest is almost always akin to the hero’s quest from stories of yore. It starts with the existential question “why”, and in many cases, “why not?” It was because Steve Jobs asked why we can’t put music on phones that we have the smartphone of today. Almost every invention, innovation, service, product or great company can trace its roots back to a person or a set of people pondering on the “why” of a problem. This spirit of enquiry must persist throughout the entrepreneur’s journey: the fires of “why” must go higher when hiring employees, making critical growth decisions, deciding whether to accept funds from a particular investor, taking the step towards going public (or not) and many, many other vital areas. The “why” drives the enterprise, and the entrepreneur.
Zoom in, zoom out
Many articles and books laud the value of seeing the big picture. I do too, but with a caveat. The ability to fly high at 50,000 feet to see the big picture of your quest must not blind you to discern the smallest details on the ground. Every successful entrepreneur I’ve encountered has this in common: the ability to roll up their sleeves and get to work—whether on the shopfloor, whether to churn out vital pieces of code, lend a hand with that awesome design, or man the aisles at the retail outlet. I call this skill “zooming in and out”; while it’s critical to pull your company along based on your predictions of what’s happening over the horizon, never hesitate to pitch in when required. Know the details of your sales pipeline, your costs, your customers, your users. Know how you can solve their problems. Besides the fact that it can be an immense morale booster, your contribution can be vital to un-entangle a particularly knotty problem.
Mark Zuckerberg once remarked that “No one does it alone”. Truer words were never spoken. You need a team to solve the problems that you’ve set out to solve, and you need the best team you can afford. Most importantly, you also need to spell out your vision, draw a picture of the problem and the solution you’re looking for, and get out of their way as they start building the solution. Entrepreneurs must get over their individual god complexes and delegate to the team they’ve built. So surround yourself with a talented team of problem solvers, and delegate parts of the problem to them. It won’t take long for the solution to be built as a whole.
As an extension of delegation, another key skill entrepreneurs must build to solve their grand problem is that of collaboration. What does this mean in the organisational sense? It means, working to build an ecosystem of partners, vendors and suppliers to help you grow and scale. Collaborations help both parties: for instance, there is no need for a data analytics firm to build a large user experience team, if they can partner with a talented UX firm and bid together for projects. Building your ecosystem can help you solve problems both internal and external. It builds goodwill, widens your network and ultimately, contributes to the growth of your company.
This skill is probably the elusive elixir that many entrepreneurs need from Day 0, but gain only with time, after they heal from the scrapes and bruises of lessons learned along the journey. This is the ability to distinguish between a problem worth solving and one that is not. It is the ability to ignore the naysayers and stay true to your vision. It is the super skill that even helps you abandon a project—known fashionably nowadays as ‘fail fast’—instead of persisting with it, beyond its utility.
Enterprises rise and fall. Entrepreneurship is for life; ideas keep flowing, the worm keeps gnawing, the passion to create something out of nothing never dies. Develop these problem solving skills to move from ideation to action, and enjoy the resultant success.