Separating the problem, from the symptom

Many business owners would lament that when asked to list out the problems in their business, they’d run out of room…

Not enough sales
Not enough customers
Not enough people know about us
Not enough profit
Not enough cash on hand

If they could just solve this problem, life would be easier.

As a society — we love talking about our problems, and while I’m a firm believer that it’s better to vocalise them (better out, than in), we typically will only proceed to describe the symptom in every which way.

We get better at telling the story of our problems, rather than solving them.

It’s this excuse laden existence that only succeeds in promoting a victim mentality within.

But as luck would have it, there are more factors at play than re-adjusting the rubik’s cube.

It starts from going through the process of separating the symptom, from the problem.

In ‘The Road Less Stupid’ — Keith Cunningham discusses the concept that the core problem is never the obvious gap between what is (Point A) and what ought to be (Point B).

The key is to identify the REAL OBSTACLE that resides in the gap, not the gap itself.

When misdiagnosing the root problem, or mislabelling the symptom as the obstacle we run into two problems.

  1. The questions we ask, and the solutions we find stay in the category of being tactical.

If you’ve read any of my work, you’ll know my stance on strategy first, tactics second. Tactics before Strategy is the noise before defeat (The Art Of War)

  1. The overarching solution and/or process that we develop becomes a machine for the problem that ‘isn’t’. This really just means we get more efficient at slapping on bandaids.

Few things are worse than sprinting in the wrong direction enthusiastically.

This means the true obstacle isn’t being addressed, and we continue to waste resources, and energy on the problem.

This is how problems STAY problems, and never truly get solved.

I’d go as far as to say that this is the core reason that business’ plateau and eventually backslide.

To give a real world example — let’s talk weight loss.

Our clothes may be a little tighter than they were pre-quarantine, and we’ll go around saying that this is the problem.

Our focus will be on ‘how do we lose weight?’

…with better fitting clothes, or a smaller waistline, being the desired outcome.

This leads us to jump into tactics — and jumping to purchase anything that alludes to this solution in their brand or product promises.

Remember we typically buy with emotion, and justify it with logic.

Should we buy an online program?
Should we buy some new adidas shoes?
Maybe some lululemon?
Getting a gym membership is a given…

While these may help — do they truly solve the problem?

How many online programs never get opened (lots)

How many people have a gym membership, yet never step foot in the gym (even more — in fact, gyms actually factor for this in their intakes).

The thing is we could buy all of those things and our weight would not shift one iota.

Just owning a product does not get us in shape.

The real issue when concerning our weight typically lies with consistency.

Consistency of discipline
Consistency of diet
Consistency of exercise.

99 times out of 100 it comes from the failed belief that we can out-train a bad diet, or bad habits.

We can’t.

Bad questions produce wrong answers.

The true answer always lies within the quality of the initial question, and the depth of the subsequent questions.

To loop this back around to business — when revenue becomes stagnant, or we don’t grow as fast as we like, we run the gauntlet of the typical tactics that we can find on Google.

This misrepresentation usually results in ‘crisis meetings’ with the team that throw around ideas, and followed by a flurry of activity that rarely solves the problem.

  • Running a promotion, or a crazy discount.

The list goes on…

It may help in the short term, but activity is not synonymous with productivity.

Just because we’re sweating doesn’t mean it’s working.

Now all of the above can work effectively if anchored to a strategy.

But if the shotgun approach is taken with little thought, there will be little outcome.

By just focussing on the problem of ‘slower sales’ — we are only focusing on the symptoms of a much bigger issue.

One of Keith’s teachings that I’ve found to be especially valuable in diagnosing the true problem is finding the unasked questions.

As a result of this I have dedicated Thinking Time where I run through the questions.

  1. What are the possible reasons I am noticing this symptom?

Separating the problem that is, from the symptoms we see is no small feat — I’d actually be so bold to say that this is THE difference between businesses that survive and thrive.

As business owners, we ARE problem solvers by nature.

We must be proficient at solving our own problems and needs, so we can continually improve our ability to solve our clients, and our market’s problems and needs (which do evolve over time).

The day we stop solving problems, is the day we stop having a place in the market.

In the busy-ness of business — it can be hard to put aside an hour for dedicated problem solving without distraction, but I promise it is an hour well spent when it mitigates hundreds of wasted hours in the future.

Hours that could be spent on actually improving the outcomes the problems are hindering.

Hope this helps

Zac