We know that problems contain opportunities and that finding those opportunities will bring us the inspiration that is so important in a time of change. We also know that simply looking for these opportunities will bring us benefits. And we’ve seen some examples.
The next question is: what kinds of opportunity should we be looking for?
It turns out there are five basic types.
The first two are to ignore the problem (live with it) or walk away (exit the situation). This might seem obvious but how often do we jump in and start fixing a problem without considering whether it really matters? How often do we waste time and effort on issues that would have been better left alone?
1. Sometimes ignoring a problem will be appropriate, simply because we have limited resources and higher priorities to deal with. Sometimes taking no action on an issue will send an important message about our priorities (to customers, employees, suppliers, or shareholders). Sometimes doing nothing is appropriate so that other people will take responsibility. And sometimes the best we can do is choose which problem we want to live with.
2. Sometimes it makes sense to walk away from a situation and focus our energies elsewhere. The new situation will bring new issues, sure. But these might teach us more, reward us better, or lead us in a direction we care more about.
When facing a new problem, our first question should always be “Is this issue is important enough to do something about?”
If we decide we do want to take action on an issue then there are three more types of opportunity to look for:
3. One is to simply fix the problem. This means removing the issue and returning the situation to the way it was before. For business leaders this means getting the organisation out of the ditch and back on the same track as before: increasing quality or reliability, cutting costs, or raising prices are standard ways to achieve this.
4. Another type of opportunity is to address the issue in a way that improves the situation over and above the way things were before. This response is about getting the organisation out of the ditch and pointing it in a better, more productive direction. Corporate turnarounds, takeovers, diversifications, and repositionings can be this kind of response.
5. A final response is to learn to prevent the problem from happening again: this is called resolving or transforming the situation. Instead of fixing the heating or air conditioning system, or maintaining it better so it doesn’t break down as often, why not simply construct buildings in a way that means they don’t need heating or air conditioning?
Another example of all three responses is given by occupancy rates. These are a strategic issue in the hotel, airline, and taxi industries. Advertising and promotions could provide a short-term Fix to boost occupancy. Repositioning the business (to focus on low cost or luxury) could Improve occupancy by pointing the organisation in a new direction. And Airbnb, Uber, and Lyft all Resolved or Transformed the situation by choosing not to own any taxis or hotels: this meant they no longer needed to worry about occupancy rates!
These improve and transform types of innovation are harder to find than the others. But, like good comedy, they are more disruptive and longer lasting if you can find them.
Are you facing a problem today? Have you considered your options under all five of these types of responses?
Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.
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