A lot of business school education focuses on solutions. We teach our students many techniques for solving many types of problems. Outside of a case study course, we don’t get into the area of identifying what type of problem we are confronting very often. It is more often the case that the problem is “given” and we teach students how to solve the problem should they ever run into it (or one similar to it) in business.
I’d like to suggest that we consider integrating three questions more deeply into the business school curriculum.
The first question is, “What problem are you trying to solve?” I have found this to be a very powerful question to ask and to answer. Asking it usually causes a decision maker to stop cold and reflect on exactly what she confronts. Once considered, answering this question usually eliminates a lot of distractions and superfluous options. When we know what problem we are really trying to solve, we gain a focus that we did not have.
The second question is, “What will success look like?” In business education, I feel we should impress upon our students the idea of establishing a metric of some kind (and it need not be quantitative) so that we will know what success looks like. Another way of phrasing this question is, “How will you know you have solved the problem?” but I personally like the idea of framing the question in terms of success. The answer to this question provides criteria for assessing later how good the solution really is.
The third question is, “Who will hate your solution (and why)?” We naturally tend to think of the “good” aspects of a problem solution and all of the people who will be happy with our solution. We don’t spend too much time thinking about who is going to hate our solution and why they will hate it. I believe it is worthwhile to consider this perspective, because it leads us to being more critical of our work. Often, when we take a critical perspective of our work we can identify ways to improve it. We rarely seek to improve a solution that we think is good.
What problem are you trying to solve?
What will success look like?
Who will hate your solution (and why)?