The problems in front of you in business will often be relatively straightforward. But increasingly, business issues aren’t easy or black and white. They’re filled with a high number of constantly moving variables that make any sort of predictability difficult to achieve. Solving these problems that are seemingly impossible to analyze is achievable, but it takes a decidedly different approach than what many entrepreneurs and leaders are used to.
What’s Created So Many Difficult Problems?
One cornerstone in the foundation of these problems is that environments and ways of thinking are shifting. The world is dramatically different (e.g., climate change, growing calls for equality), and what might not have been considered or prioritized in the past now often cannot be left out of the picture. As these shifts occur, people have created new options and connections between systems or points of living that didn’t exist before.
As frontrunners of innovation in a space where new precedents are constantly being established, digital natives have a head-start navigating the unpredictable terrain in which many traditional businesses are increasingly finding themselves. The lessons digital companies have learned from encountering – and solving – VACA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) problems regularly can provide a solid foundation upon which any business can build a winning strategy.
Behind all of this is an explosion in digital. Thanks to technology, the power that once rested squarely with companies – particularly huge corporations – has shifted to the consumer. Instead of businesses telling buyers what to consume through advertisements and knowing what reach and sales likely will be, people can directly share what they think, hold companies accountable, and conduct their transactions from virtually anywhere. This new relationship is much more two-way than in the past.
Because of all the technology and new links that exist, and because customers now are co-drivers with behavior that is so quick and fickle, there’s no real way for leaders to have clear certainty about what to do. The old approach where businesses relied on data and best practices, which still has significant sway and inertia in the corporate space, is impractical and directly contradictory to developing the desired degree of innovation necessary to stay competitive. Companies have to make decisions even when they have no precedent or standard from others.
Don’t Analyze and Model to Death, Just Go Do It
One key difference between traditional businesses and digital natives lies in the fundamental approach each takes when dealing with change. In the past, more conventional operation models rested on the idea of long-process modeling. For instance, if you wanted to sell something, you’d likely do some interviews, make a prototype, test it, send it to focus groups, get feedback, tweak it, and only bring it to market when your data suggested it was what customers wanted. However, when you have an uncertain problem, the best approach is just to do something about it. Instead of predicting how people will respond through all this extensive modeling, just go ahead and put the product in front of the consumer and see what happens, then escalate based on your results.
Digital means that you can do this sort of real-world, experiment-based probing much more easily. You don’t necessarily have to rely on physical infrastructures or tools to figure out what people think or get items in play. You can reduce your ideas to really small things so that you can move through many rapid iterations.
By keeping shifts and tests tiny and conducting them in the actual consumer environment, you can decide early on what to drop and what to keep and minimize your financial losses. You gain a significant degree of agility and granularity even as your risk decreases, and you don’t waste months or years on projects nobody wants. Those elements look extremely attractive to most investors, and customers end up feeling like you’re listening to them as individuals as they move through their unique journey.
Examples of companies that use this problem-solving approach include Google and Amazon. They push new products or functionalities just about every week to about one percent of their base. This way, they don’t disrupt the majority of their customers as they explore what to scale. But because they have so many customers, one percent still translates to a sample group that’s adequately sized.
In the Long-Term, Humility Yields Success
Many leaders of the champion companies of the 20th century still believe that they are paid to know the best way to surmount any obstacle. They struggle against not providing or getting concrete answers to today’s complex problems. So the biggest hurdle to taking the “just do” strategy for complex problem solving is simply being humble enough to admit that not knowing is okay. You must be willing to accept that being the smartest in the room isn’t as valuable as it used to be.
While this is not easy, it’s also liberating. It allows you to see what works for you instead of relying on copying anyone else, and it frees up your organization’s creativity and energy. It empowers teams to take action and trust themselves and each other, even if they don’t know precisely how they’ll get to the finish line. All of that delivers a laudable amount of yield with bankable value. It also provides a sense that the group is adaptable and capable of staying in the game and winning it.
So if you want to innovate, quit looking for blueprints where there aren’t going to be any. Use data where it makes sense, but be willing to get your products out into the real world so you can see what users actually will do. You’ll work faster and more economically, and the relationships you build through direct interaction with your customers will be priceless.
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