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Master creative problem solving

People with goals succeed because they know where they are going. —Earl Nightingale

Phillip Chichoni

I was listening to a radio programme the other day where the presenters were discussing the problem of youth unemployment in Zimbabwe. Listeners were calling in and voicing their thoughts on the subject. The main issue that a number of listeners raised was the lack of finance to enable young people to start businesses.

It is true that you cannot start a business without money. However, it seems to me that it is not really the lack of money that is stopping many youths from being entrepreneurial; it is the lack of ideas.

Raising money is just another problem that needs to be solved.

The ability to solve problems effectively and well is the one defining skill of successful entrepreneurs. By practising the approaches, skills and techniques used by other successful entrepreneurs, you dramatically increase your ability to solve virtually any problem that comes across your way.

Do you have clear goals? What stands between you and your goals is a problem or roadblock of some kind which needs creative thinking for it to be solved.

The first step in solving a problem is to identify the real problem. It is easy to waste time and resources on the wrong problem. For example, high interest rates or low consumer demand are not problems, they are just facts. Work with the facts and identify the real obstacles hindering you from reaching your goals.

There are wrong assumptions that you can make which will interfere with your ability to think clearly. For example, you might think that you are the person who needs to solve a particular problem. Maybe this problem belongs in someone else’s court, not yours. Maybe someone has already solved that problem elsewhere.

Ask yourself, “Who else may have had this problem and come up with a solution for it?”

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Find out from other people how they have dealt with a similar problem. Sometimes there is no single solution to a problem.

When you have identified a real problem that you must solve, write it down. Be systematic about it. Remember that a goal that you have not achieved is merely a problem unsolved.

The more clearly you define the problem or goal, the more likely you are to come up with an effective solution. By continuously expanding your definition of the problem, you will expand your view of all the different ways it can be solved.

For example, you might be experiencing cash flow problems. This is not the real problem. The real issue is usually a lack of sales, which leads to low revenues and correspondingly to cash shortages.

If this is the case, your problem solving should focus on how to increase sales. You might need to change your marketing and sales tactics, or the quality of your products and their positioning in the market. Facts are important here as they enable you to take the correct actions.

If your advertising is not producing the desired results, you might need to change the message, the media or the materials that you use.

Creative problem solving requires that you brainstorm on the problem and come up with all possible solutions. Write the problem down as a question, such as, “How can we increase sales by 20% within six months?” or “How can we reduce costs in our manufacturing department by 15% by June?”

Write down all the solutions you can think of. An ideal number of solutions is 20; if you come up with more, eliminate those which are not the best until you are left with 20. Of those 20 solutions, pick one and action it immediately.

By practising creative problem solving on a regular basis, you become good at it and you start coming up with more and better quality solutions to problems. Brain- storming works better if you do it together with your management team or business partners. That way, you will come up with and more and varied solutions. Also, different people can see a problem from different perspectives, thus allowing objectivity.

A quality of successful entrepreneurs is their ability to concentrate single-mindedly on a single goal or objective without getting tired or bored.

They also have the mental flexibility to consider all the various possible ways of solving the problem or answering a question.
We are living in the information age where you can find information on any subject in books and on the internet.

Master the habit of creative problem solving, carry out research and make use of ideas from experts and other successful entrepreneurs and you will overcome the various problems and obstacles that you will face on your way to achieving your goals.

Phillip Chichoni is a business development consultant who works with SMEs and entrepreneurs. You may contact him by email, chichonip@smebusinesslink.com. You can also visit http://smebusinesslink.com

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