Make Sure You Solve the Right Problem

Entrepreneurs are simply those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity
and are able to turn both to their advantage.


People often charge into action, only to discover they’ve set out to solve the wrong problem. Take the case of the major dog food manufacturer who introduced a new line of food at a cost of millions of dollars. Despite a high-profile marketing effort and plenty of shelf space at the local supermarket, the product just stuck to the shelves. Already worried after only a few weeks, the company rushed to solve the problem.

First they changed the packaging. “It must be the wrong color,” said one. “It’s the design,” said another, while a third suggested the dogs in the picture weren’t the right breed.

Back on the shelves it went with a bold new look and still nothing happened. Next, after brainstorming all kinds of wonderful ideas, they changed the name of the product to one that was sure to delight any canine lover. Still the product stayed on the shelves. Finally, the product team agreed it must be the price. It was, after all, at the higher end of the doggy food scale. After much debate, a new price was decided upon, significantly lower than the original introductory price. The product was rolled out once again, with new packaging, better looking hounds, a cuter name, and super pricing. It still didn’t sell!

The CEO was so discouraged that he went personally to his local supermarket to observe buying habits in the pet food department. After a few minutes, a boy of eleven or twelve marched up to the dog food section and pulled down a large bag of competing chow. The CEO casually wandered over to the boy and politely inquired why he had chosen brand X instead of his brand. The boy cheerfully replied, “My dog hates the taste of that stuff. He just won’t eat it.”

Problem solving is often not as hard as problem identification! The first step in problem solving is to identify the real problem. Exactly what is the problem you are going to solve? Clearly define your problem on a piece of paper and list its individual components.

For example, say your business is not profitable. This is the first problem statement. Using a piece of paper, list all the components of the problem, or clearly write down what the problem is. Your business is not profitable because sales are down, the product is faulty, your accounting system doesn’t track your expenditures, etc. The problem must be clearly identified if you expect to solve it.

It is important to note that many problems are very complex and thus need to be broken down into a series of smaller component problems. The trouble in solving most everyday problems is that they are often ill defined. The actual problem runs into another problem, and the desired outcome seems hazy at best. For example, I need more money. That is a vague problem that must be further defined into a specific amount—say $5,000. This gives you a clear problem with a clear outcome in mind. Now we can go about trying to solve the problem.

This step in clearly identifying the problem will ensure that you face the problem with the understanding necessary to solve it. A problem that is extremely complex and has multiple facets will only be a source of frustration because it is too large to tackle in one effort. Breaking the problem down to smaller, more manageable pieces will yield the desired effect…solving the problem.

As Peter Drucker said, “Once the facts are clear, the decisions jump out at you.” Problems must be defined in detail and looked at from all angles and points of view before a problem statement is generated.

Examine the problem and define it clearly.

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