Writing is like good design. It shouldn’t contain unnecessary extras. In other words, ideally, it’s so clear and concise that if you remove one element, it no longer makes sense.

How many challenges can you identify in your company that (some) people are somewhat aware of but have never been written down?

A problem, well-defined, is half-solved.

researchable problems

Some problems in business are very well documented, resulting in a lot of literature and knowledge altogether around a specific problem.

Other problems are so exotic, you’re pretty much on your own.

Both are good and bad.

Upon encountering a well-known problem in business, you can immerse yourself in a bath of knowledge. Study all there is to know around the issue at hand.

For instance, when your company is acquiring another company, how do you ensure the inherent culture is (re)aligned, so everybody operates on the same wavelength. Let’s say you want to expand and open up shop in a particular country or state. Transform your restaurant into a franchise business… The list with well-known challenges goes on.

The issue is this. Documentation around well-known challenges is almost always made available from a positive point of view. Meaning, after the challenge has been tackled successfully. What’s even more interesting is learning about how other people failed in an attempt to tackle the said challenge.

Optimize for not failing, don’t optimize for success. Small nuance, big difference.

expert paradox

Either you’re an expert, or you’re not. The shades of grey seem to be continuously reduced until we’re left with only black and white.

When somebody dedicates their life, academically and professionally, to a particular subject matter, chances are they’ll grow to become, or already are, an expert. Subsequently, they should be respected as such.

On the other hand, everybody is entitled to an opinion. No more, no less. You are entitled to an opinion, but the world doesn’t owe you anything. If your opinion is in no way backed by science, it’s just that, an opinion.

Sometimes a naive and humble approach or input can shed new light on a complex problem. However, due to the immediate dismissal of such input, the gap seems to be increasing. Either you’re a nitwit or an expert. Leaving no room for moderation and transferable knowledge from one domain into another.

don’t hurry worry

Troubles ahead cause us to worry. Whether they’re challenges to overcome, an arduous journey to embark on, or problems to solve. In an attempt to plan ahead, worries might arise, and that’s fine.

The troubles start when momentarily too many worries accumulate. Our mind RAM gets overloaded, and if we’re unsuccessful at decreasing the dimensionality of the problem, we might get stuck in analysis paralysis.

Now you’re stuck with a sequence of contingent worries. However, there is a big chance that the second worry in line might no longer be relevant once the first worry gets tackled.

Worry, one worry at a time.

plan b is plan a

When you miss a turn, the GPS automatically recalculates. It almost instantly finds another way to the same destination. Maybe it’ll ask you to double back. Perhaps, it’ll come up with an alternative route. Even when you keep missing turns or road works pop up, it vigorously keeps recalculating and prompting you to follow its instructions.

Comparing humans to GPS’ isn’t fair. GPS’ consisting out of hard- and software, don’t get frustrated or tired, provided they have enough power to run. Although the way these devices go about their business is certainly something I envy.

When we set out to reach a goal, we’re bound to encounter an obstacle or two. We might have even reached our destination unknowingly and flew right past it.

In the face of adversity, never lose track of your goal. Keep recalculating your route until you get there.

mind ram

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” That’s what Einstein, renowned for laying the foundation for many of his theories in pure imagination, allegedly said.

There is a limit to the amount of data we can store (simultaneously) in our imagination. I call it; the mind’s RAM. (RAM stands for read access memory and in terms of devices, more typically means a faster device with more computing power.) Our mind’s RAM size is variable. When you’re dealing with a lot, haven’t slept properly, it’s smaller than when you’re fully rested and focused. More is better. For us regular folk, it’s typically a lot smaller than Einstein’s mind RAM.

To conceive something complex, with contingencies and multiple outcomes, out of the blue, is difficult. Use your imagination until the point where your mind’s RAM overflows. Defer to pen and paper after that. Only then to move on to a device.

relatively everything

I’ve tried absolutely everything. Have you, really? “Absolutely” could be, in this case, a poor choice of words. You’ve tried everything you could, within your power and knowledge.

When you can’t see the forest for the trees, try consulting someone who is more experienced in navigating through dense forests or someone who has navigated this particular forest before.

Sometimes a problem refuses to go away, even after establishing that you’ve done everything humanly possible. Even though “absolutely everything” sounds (more than) sufficient, it’s relative to your (current) capabilities. Reach out and ask for a fresh pair of eyes to help you look through the forest.

reference pain

Not all migraines are created equal. Some migraines are side-effects caused by an underlying condition. Cervicogenic headaches aren’t strictly migraines, but they almost certainly trigger one. This phenomenon is called reference pain.

Winston Churchill once said: “criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

I’ve used this quote many times in an attempt to stimulate (constructive) criticism. Depending on interpretation, the quote is perhaps slightly flawed. Back pain could be the result of a blocked ankle, causing you to alter your step. Examining the back, in this case, isn’t going to make the problem disappear.

Your business can be in (proverbial) pain too. Customers not renewing their subscriptions might not be the result of the inability to charge their credit cards. Perhaps they experienced a lack of customer support or onboarding. 

Submit your business repeatedly to a full “medical” checkup. Keep a helicopter overview. The root cause of a problem may be far away — both physically and timewise — from its manifestation. 

professional problem solver

I solve problems for a living. Problems I’ve created in the past. Problems people have created for me. Wild problems that suddenly appear out of nowhere. Quiet problems you barely knew existed. Would you like some problems with that? Don’t mind if I do.

Entrepreneurship requires kind Pit Bulls. Dogs that set their teeth in a problem, refusing to let go until the issue is resolved.

There are a couple of ways to go about it. You could either sign on the dotted line making a problem go away. Telling employees to go left. A supplier to go forward. A manager to go backward. Similar to moving chess pieces across the board. Approving or disapproving matters all day long. We’ll refer to this as interruption-based problem-solving.

The other way around could look like this. A rather unpleasant fragrance protrudes in the hallway. You put on your boots and anticipate the toilets about to overflow. Consequently, when they do overflow, you grab a shovel and start shoveling, well… Shit. Let’s call this problem-solving method: boots on the ground.

Senior (vice) problem solvers or even chief executive problem solvers with a long career at big companies are often excellent interruption-based problem solvers. Inversely, they suck at the boots on the ground style.

Startups have little need for interruption-based problem-solving. When it’s just you and four other people, there isn’t much use in strategically approaching how to approve the right person for the job to alleviate the sanitary situation. Again, put on your boots and shovel shit.

If problem-solving doesn’t make your heart skip a beat, consider a different career.

whose baby crying

What’s worse than your baby keeping you from sleeping, crying incessantly? The neighbor’s baby keeping you up all night squealing like there is no tomorrow, in a tiny apartment with paper walls and virtually no sound isolation.

What are the options? Wait until the baby grows up? Move to a different place? Encourage the neighbors to move out? Build a sound isolated wall? Frankly, none of these options are valid from a practical point of view. Side note: the latter option isn’t valid per se because acoustics isn’t an exact science. The material is costly, and the results are often vastly underwhelming.

In business, incumbents and newcomers in your industry can be annoying, keeping you up all night, much like the neighbor’s crying baby. Sometimes, there just isn’t a whole lot you can do about it.

Radical change is what’s required to deal with those situations. Staying true to your personal beliefs and your business’ values, look past the problem and see if any solutions start with you. Without leaving everything you stand for behind, there might be features you can implement that are radically different, embracing the opportunity to set yourself apart.

In the end, you can’t control what you can’t control. Keep track of your competitors, but (laser) focus on you.