What it takes to be a great problem solver in business


Problem-solving – it’s a critical skill to have if you’re going to be a leader, an innovator, a game-changer. Some of today’s greatest and successful leaders are dedicated to solving problems – think Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Holly Ransom.

Problem-solving is critical to small business in two ways, says business strategist Stephen Barnes from Byronvale Advisors. Firstly, you need to ensure that your operation adequately solves a problem that your customers have, and you are able to find ways to fix issues or troubleshoot challenges within your own business. This could be anything from staffing to marketing channels, cash flow or legal issues.

“Everything in business is about providing a solution to a problem,” he tells SmartCompany.

And there’s good news for those not lucky enough to be born with innate problem-solving abilities: these skills can be learnt to enable entrepreneurs to excel both within their local and domestic markets, but also be equipped to compete globally.

Find out how James Cook University can give you the problem-solving skills to drive your business further.

What makes a good problem solver?

Barnes says an ability to adapt and move with changing technology, customer behaviour and the business landscape is essential to be able to recognise when your business needs to change and to react accordingly. To some, this comes naturally, but for others, it is a learning curve.

“If you are not prepared to adapt and you keep doing the same things, then you are going to go out of business,” he says. Barnes also advises to take a step back and think pragmatically and try to avoid emotional reactions.

Education can be the key to effective problem-solving

Continually learning about business is a key way to ensure entrepreneurs can compete within their local and domestic markets, but also be equipped to launch globally.

“I think this is where higher education, perhaps an MBA, comes into play – it looks at both of those two problems,” he says.

“They do case studies and creating a solution to a consumer or a client’s problem, but in doing that they also need to work out how to run their own business and how to fix their own problems internally.”

Barnes says education is crucial to obtaining a global perspective that is so very relevant to all businesses.

“The business environment is no longer local but global,” he says.

“Even a local plumbing business is impacted by events and situations on the other side to the world – from products and technology, to even things like petrol prices.”

People are working overseas more than ever before and the nature of education has shifted so that faculty are truly international, he says.

Meet a proven problem solver

Alexandra Tselios is the Founder and CEO of The Big Smoke, a consumer news and opinion platform and digital content agency. She describes herself as a “passionate problem solver” and recognises that her business model needs to be continually evolving to remain competitive, to keep her team happy and give clients results. Thus, she needs to overcome problems with logical thinking and quick reactions.

“All business is, is finding problems and coming up with solutions – it doesn’t matter if you are an SME or a global conglomerate,” she says.

Tselios says resilience is one of the biggest characteristics of an effective problem-solver. When she lost a key staff member she realised there was a huge gap in the business and the remainder of the team weren’t equipped to handle the fort until a replacement was found. That meant having to come up with a three-part solution – culture, work consistency for clients and then filling the role quickly and seamlessly.

“ ‘Figure it out because there is literally no other way to deal with this’ is my general mindset,” she says.

Look globally, think locally

Tselios did not finish high school but realised later in life that education was key to controlling her own path, and to be better equipped to cope with business challenges.

She completed a course in Russian literature as well as an MBA and says her decision to embrace learning was a door-opener for her business. Further study offered her disciplines and phraseology to compete in her market, collaborate with other business leaders and understand how to manage the back-of-house. She says frameworks, theories and models come from formal understandings of what has been done in the past and the ability to critically think those things through.

“I can’t see how that many companies can survive in the current economy without some sort of global perspective,” she says.

“The barriers of competition for companies has completely changed, your greatest competitor tomorrow could be some small start-up from Ireland.”

Tselios’ clients compare her offering to global giants, so ‘thinking small’ simply isn’t an option.

“So we make sure our solution is just as valuable for the Australian market as it would be for the international market,” she says.

“Understanding commercial strategies of global companies is important regardless of if they are in your industry or not. Having a full grasp of the current climate, how industry shifts impact local economies – all of this, shouldn’t be some abstract concept but something that business leaders commit to having their heads around.”

James Cook University Australia
James Cook University

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