A Simple Way to Solve Your Next Problem

I recently read a great book called The Back of the Napkin by Dan Roam.  The concept of the book is using the power of visual thinking to solve problems and develop clear solutions.  Two days after I had finished the book I was sitting in a change management class put on by a company call Prosci.  What was the connection?  Both the book and the seminar talked about the importance of going through the Five Whys plus How in solving a problem.  The Five Whys – Who, What, Where, When, Why and How.  It made me realize how seldom we, as managers, ask each of these questions when solving a problem.  Typically we talk about the who and the what and the how much but we tend to stop there.  

Dan Roam, who puts a slight variation on the Five Whys, talks about the way our brain sees problems.  He varies the five whys slightly by saying we first see objects – the who and the what.  We then see quantities – how much and how many.  We then see position in space – the where.  Next we see the position in time – the when.  We then see influences and the cause and effect – the how.  Finally, everything comes together – the why.   

Let’s walk through an example to see how we might follow this process in solving an issue.  Your issue is sales are flat and you would like to increase sales in the coming year. 

  • Who/What – who are your customers?   What do they look like?  Are they younger or older, male or female, certain ethnic groups, or a specific income group?  What do they like about you as compared to your competitors?   What do you do that they really like?
  • How many – how many customers do you have?  How many potential customers do you have?  How many additional customers do you want to meet your sales objective?
  • How much – how much does each customer spend with you?  How much could they spend with you? 
  • Where – where do your customers come from?  Are they located in a certain radius from your location?  Can you expand that radius?
  • When – when do your customers buy from you?  Can you increase the number of times they buy from you?
  • How – this is the most difficult step because you have to take the above components and put together the cause and effect.  In this case you have built a visual as to who your customer base is, which should provide you some invaluable insight as to how you might reach and sell these customers.
  • Why – the reason we want to understand our customer base is to increase sales.  This understanding allows us to develop clear sales and marketing plans and relook at how we deliver our products and services to better fit the wants of our customers. 

Finally, make sure you develop a detailed specific plan so you can effectively execute what you have decided to do.  Put in a process where you continually measure the assumptions you developed to verify that you are not acting on inaccurate information.

Taking out the emotion that typically surrounds problems is critical to your ability to solve the issue with the best possible solution.  Using a proven systematic approach seems to be an obvious answer.  The above approach is one way to do it, but there are numerous possibilities that have been developed. 

Next time you have a problem, try this method, the result might be surprising.    

Greg Thiesen, CEO, Red Book Solutions & B2A

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