Making Trivial Look Vital – The No. 1 Problem Solving Mistake

Pensive man listening to answer in paper cup signifying how making trivial matters are made to look vital, a common problem solving mistake.

What’s the one single reason most people fail miserably at problem solving. They try and fix something that needs no repairs. Okay, hold your thoughts for a while. Let me tell how why this is the number 1 problem solving mistake most people make. They make trivial look vital.

What does that even mean?

Let’s consider an example. You are a small business owner and plan to introduce a new offer for the upcoming festive season. You’d like to run a pilot to get customer feedback and reviews.

So, you randomly select a few old customers and ask your sales executive to call customers and introduce the new offer.

The next morning you ask for feedback. Here’s the response: “they don’t seem too excited about the offer“.

Why? You ask. Reply – “they said the competitors have already been offering something similar“.

The Problem Solving Mistake In This Example

I’ve witnessed a lot of small businesses jump into brainstorming sessions at this juncture. The mistake – they brainstorm about the wrong problem.

They start discussing the offer details , product features and competition.

What should they do instead?

They should ask the sales executive: “How many customers in “they”?” and “what does something similar mean?

In 99% cases, “they” turns out to be a handful of responses. “They don’t seem too excited about the offer” is not a problem until “they” represents a sizeable sample of customers.

Most small businesses get this wrong. They make the same problem solving mistake each time.

Ideally, even before a random list of customers is prepared, you should check what would be a good sample size for this research. Then, check response rates for similar surveys done in the past. Let’s assume, a representative sample size for this research was 450 customers. And, your past response rate when you cold call customers for surveys or feedback is 50%. Then, you need a list of (450 / 50%) = 900 customers.

Your sales executive would attempt to call 900 customers. 50% or 450 would pick up the call and answer the questions.

So “they don’t seem excited” is not a problem unless 450 customers have been contacted and a good majority or percentage of those express displeasure about the offer.

So check how many people were called? How mant answered?

What next?

If the sample size requirements are not met, you don’t yet have a problem at hand. Don’t fix what’s not broken. Wait for the exercise to be completed.

Now, if adequate responses were collected and most seemed disinterested in the offer, get into the details. What is it that they specifically dislike about the offer? Define “something similar offered by competitors”. What’s similar – design, specifications, benefits, pricing?

Before you attempt to solve a problem, make sure a problem exists. Don’t start with a vague problem statement.

The Common Problem Solving Mistake

This was one example. However, you could see the pattern.

  • Hiring new candidates: Statement: not enough candidates that match the job description. Check: how many candidate profiles screened? How mant job portals or agencies used?
  • Email marketing: Statement: email marketing does not work for our business. Check: number of recipients, quality of email database, open rate. How many campaigns?

You could easily observe the same pattern and problem solving mistake being repeated. Businesses are quick to jump to conclusions based on random statements and vague hypothesis.

Make it a practice to quantify everything at work – outcomes, efforts, results, benefits and problems. The what, when, where and how.

Don’t shoot in the dark. Don’t fix what’s not broken.

Hope this helps. If you have any problem solving tips or feedback for me, please share in the comments below. And, a big thank you for reading my post. If you are new to my site, do subscribe to receive email notifications for my new posts.

By Nitesh Verma

Founder - Business Management Blog. I am an independent business strategy consultant, helping companies take data driven business decisions. My mission is to find and implement simple solutions for complex business problems.

1 comment

Share your views

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: