It’s been said that a problem clearly stated is already half solved, but for most entrepreneurs, impatience usually gets the best of them and they never get the chance to apply the necessary critical thinking skills to solve the myriad problems encountered on a daily basis. Even for the most critical of problems, their problem solving techniques is more of a blind hunt for information rather than a careful search for the relevant facts.
Authors Charles Kepner and Benjamin Tregoe articulate this quite well in their classic book on critical thinking titled The Rational Manager.
“A problem cannot be efficiently solved unless it is precisely described. How can you correct a problem if you don’t know exactly what the problem is? No matter how urgent it may be, it will not be correctly solved without a very exact statement of what it is, and what its critical dimensions are. It is not a blind hunt for “all the facts.” It is a selected, careful search for certain kinds of facts that will draw a boundary line around the problem. This outline would include all that is relevant and important information about the problem and exclude all that is superficial and irrelevant. This dividing line will be drawn so tightly and precisely that it will expose the change that must be the cause of the problem.”
The authors go on to say that the precise specification of a problem is “the most valuable single tool a manager can have for solving any kind of problem.” For most entrepreneurs, this skill set is equally valuable. The problem is that most don’t recognize the value of this type of problem solving until it’s too late.
Here’s the takeaway: Being able to clearly describe a problem is one of the key critical thinking skills for successful entrepreneurs. While we all like to boost about having the ability to solve problems “on the fly”, making gut decisions without taking the time to differentiate important information from the superficial and irrelevant can be a recipe for disaster.
Patrick Lefler is the founder of The Spruance Group – a management consultancy that helps growing companies grow faster. He is a former Marine Corps officer; a graduate of both Annapolis and The Wharton School, and has over twenty years of industry expertise.