How do we approach solving complex problems in business and life in general?
Typically, two steps can empower us to solve complex problems effectively and efficiently:
1. Identifying your problems.
2. Structuring your problems.
However, you may find yourself stuck if you lack clarity on what the problem actually is.
To further explore this premise, we forayed into our bookshelves and identified two books with insightful information on this vital topic.
The Black Swan: The Impact Of Highly Improbable Events, Nassim Taleb
In this book, essayist and former risk analyst Nassim Taleb cites “Black Swans,” which he cites as events that were not predictable before they occurred, but which are obvious in hindsight. Such examples include the start of World War I, the 1987 stock market crash, and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.
This book is interesting, but its views on solving problems are challenging because problems are not always visible until they are already hitting you in the face.
The Gray Rhino: How To Recognize And Act On The Obvious Dangers We Ignore, Michele Wucker
This compelling book is a highly-recommended complement to Taleb’s Black Swan, as Michele Wucker presents a “Gray Rhino” as a metaphor for a “highly probable, high- impact, yet neglected threat.”
Wucker’s arguments are both interesting and alarming when we consider the significant impact that may result from not tackling problems we may have anticipated. If we consider the phenomena of “bubbles” as indicators of collapse (e.g. stock market or real estate crashes), then “bubbles” are examples of gray rhinos.
The author mentions events and circumstances leading to the collapse of Kodak that were actually anticipated before they occurred. And yet, this leading digital camera producer in 2005 was apparently “surprised” by the decline of the film business.
When “Black Swans” Meet “Gray Rhinos”
In some cases, problems have both Black Swan and Gray Rhino aspects. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, was neither seen nor felt in advance by many of its residents (Black Swan), but the city leaders who became aware of the threat in advance did not take action on it (Gray Rhino).
Solving Complex Problems Takes Time
If you want to resolve complex business problems before they cause harm, you must aggressively seek them out as they are approaching.
While it may seem simple to say, it’s not always easy to implement.
Here are a few suggestions to help you:
- Take the time to search for potential incoming problems. Schedule time weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually (depending on the complexity of your business) to examine your operating assumptions, analyze whether they are becoming outdated, and whether you should take corrective action accordingly.
- Take the time to think about failure. Get your team together and conduct hypothetical scenarios that may lead to failure. Example: Assume that in five years your business has failed. Now work backwards and consider how it happened (which naturally will lead to preventative measures you can take now to avoid such scenarios).
- Take the time to create transparency to better analyze how your business generates profits. You will then have more clarity to spot problems that may pose threats to employee morale, product lines, R&D, and your overall business model.
Note the recurring phrase in each of those suggestions: take the time.
In our current environment of “do more with less” and “be lean and mean,” we rob ourselves and our best people of their most precious resource – time.
The best solution for complex problems is to prevent them – but you must commit to investing time to make that happen.
However, you can reduce such time with the aid of powerful resources to help you.
The MindPrep Resource Center provides solutions and paves a path to help you get there. Our workshops, mini-courses, and workbooks can train you to immediately spot potential Black Swans and Gray Rhinos and address them before it’s too late.
Now go forth and solve your complex problems!