You’re probably familiar with the cliffhanger theorem in a fortune cookie that says, “Each problem solved introduces a new unsolved problem.” As an entrepreneur, you’re a juggler of business problems. Just as you begin to manage the balls circling in the air, someone throws you a new one. At some point, you reach your limits. You may drop not just one ball, but the whole bunch could go bouncing to the ground – you face costly down time, lose a key customer, or, worse, go belly up!
How do we break free of this never-ending karmic cycle of problem-solving? Simply, don’t solve problems. Psychologist Karl Jung noted that seemingly significant problems shrink as more important concerns appear on the horizon. In other words, you should not be solving all problems that come your way, but only those that you believe are barriers to achieving your goals. To be able to do this, you must gain a bigger perspective of things and work more strategically. Creatively address problems that you believe are real barriers to your goals, and ignore the ones that are not, for they’ll likely fade away any way.
This approach, which we call “futuring”, also requires that you acquire a habit of looking to the future anticipating change and adapting to it accordingly. Don’t react when it’s too late. Many who anticipate successfully get rich while others who ignore the signs watch income and profits plummet. Futuring, which helps one to remain a step ahead of competition, is not difficult to preach because humans are hardwired to pursue the positive. And optimistic people are often motivated. Employees will work hard to help you create a better future for your business when they can tie it to their success. Great motivational speakers foster this sense of wonder, appreciation, and possibility.
I recently ran a three-day workshop for employees from a hotel and food service outlet in Manila. The owners thought the food service staff would be shy and afraid to speak in the same space as the staff from the fancy hotel. But to their shock, amazement, and pleasure, I was able to get the staff to openly share ideas – great ones – about the company’s future an hour after I started the workshop. The people hadn’t changed. I only created a safe open environment for them to speak out and be creative. The approach I used, called search conference, helped people think outside frameworks that tend to limit them. In the workshop, they were encouraged to never lose sight of the practical side of their business and how greatly they are contributing to its success.
About two decades ago, David Cooperrider developed an alternative approach to problem solving that has the potential of greatly helping small business organizations. Called appreciative inquiry, it involves a four-stage approach to change. Cooperrider labeled these stages as the 4Ds of change:
- Discover the best of what is (appreciating effectiveness).
- Dream what might be (envisioning results).
- Design what should be (co-constructing the future).
- Deliver how to empower, learn, and adjust (sustaining the change).
The process begins with the facilitator asking positive questions to draw out people’s stories for use in analyzing themes. These stories and themes become tools for spreading images of hope throughout the stages until people in the organization have established common ground, vision, and innovative action to deliver the results needed to create their new future.