In his book “Know What you Don’t Know”, the author Michael Roberto quotes the noted psychiatrist Theodore Rubin who stated, “The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem”. So what does he mean by this statement? The answer is that successful business leaders don’t wait for the big problems to materialize – they actively seek out problems that others do not see or want to see. They realize that if you wait for problems to find you then you have not managed your risk properly because you should have found the problem first. So here are 5 questions you need to ask yourself to get started.
“How” do you become a problem-finder? The answer is simply that successful business leaders first recognize that what they do not know is the greatest area of risk that they need to focus on – so they spend a great deal of time learning what that is in their particular industry.
“Where” do you find these unknown problems? Andy Grove of Intel, quoted by the author, uses the following metaphor to describe his model when he states: “Think of it this way: when spring rain comes, snow melts at the periphery, because that is where it is most exposed”. Simply put, problem finding is about looking at the periphery of your company, where you will find the first signs of change, either positive or negative.
“Why” is it important to find problems first? Solving problems is like being the first responder to an emergency situation. As the old adage goes, “a firemen has basically two tools, an axe and a water hose”. So what do you think your house will look like AFTER a big fire? Easier and better to avoid the fire BEFORE it starts, and deploy many more tools to do so. Business leaders need to be constantly searching at the periphery for problems that are not yet problems.
“When” do you start? RIGHT NOW! The answer, as many of us were taught in school, is often found right in the question. Great questions beget great answers. So start asking great questions. Don’t be the person who says “if I had only seen it coming I could have avoided it”. If you are, then YOU may be the biggest problem.