How to use a simple approach to solve big problems


In business there is always a problem to solve. Some problems are large, others are small, and still others we will never know the true size till we begin solving them.

Unfortunately, many people do not have a structured approach to problem solving, so they attack whatever is before them from all angles. In the end, their knee-jerk reaction brings no result, partial results or even worsens the problems.

So how can you solve problems with simple structured formula that gets results? Here is a three step formula that makes problem solving as easy as A- B- C.

  • A – Assume nothing, question everything

The first step is to assume nothing. Take it that what we are seeing today is just the surface, and there is a deeper more basic cause of the problem which you are yet to discover. The question on your mind should be – what is the real cause of this problem and how can we state it simply for the average person to understand? This forces you to bypass symptoms and look for root causes.

Let’s take a typical business problem – a brand is losing market share. The wrong approach is to panic, blame other functions, demand endless analysis, and put pressure on commercial teams to launch a consumer promotion to arrest the decline. A better approach is to first ask and understand ‘why are we loosing share?’

  • B – Break down to basics

From the simple question of ‘why are we losing? ,’ many answers will come. The next step is to list all the answers and sort them into groups.

For example, the reasons for a market share drop may be external, internal or both. To establish the possible external factors, we will proceed to check what is happening to the general market category? Is the market expanding or shrinking? Are competitors and similar brands growing or declining? Are we selling more or less units? For internal factors we ask – is our product available? Are we priced right? do people know about us? do we solve their need? Answers from external and internal questions will help identify the root cause more clearly.

  • C- Craft the intervention

Now that we have answers to the questions asked, we can proceed to craft a solution or intervention.

Bear in mind that whatever is proposed as a solution must be mapped to a specific problem to make sure  it addresses the problem or opportunity identified. To do this, I use a simple mapping table with three (3) columns. The first column is where we state the problem in simple language, the next column is the intervention, and the last column shows why our solution will work. This mapping table is a check and balance system to ensure solutions are well thought-through, fit the real problems, and can be prioritized according to scale or impact.

Believe it or not, sometimes teammates have already made up their mind to execute an activity, without checking whether this activity addresses the real issue on ground. Because this table maps each solution to a specific problem, unfounded activities will be exposed in this exercise.


No matter how big a business problem is, it can always be stated in simple language. Talking in simple language brings clarity and helps ensure that the agreed interventions address the root cause and not symptoms.

Once a solution is agreed, it is important to bring people along and focus on execution. This is not the time to be distracted by side issues or nice-to-haves. Remember when people feel a part of the solution, they are more likely to show ownership and go the extra mile. Remember, problem solving is much easier if we just keep it simple.

>>the writer is a Marketing Leader with a track-record of delivering growth while managing or consulting for some of West Africa’s most familiar brands. Eric is a people-centered leader who combines the power of marketing with the execution rigor of general management. He specializes in brands marketing and strategy, business management, innovation project management, communication, and PR. Contact [email protected]

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