4 steps for imagining better solutions at your startup

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At Wamda Media, we’re working on running a tighter ship in 2014. That means being more in touch with what you, our readers, want to read, what stories are driving the ecosystem forward, and how to continually improve our internal feedback systems.

One aspect of working on that improvement will be shifting our focus from problem-solving to focusing on solutions; when we come up against a narrative that doesn’t quite work, or a workflow that’s not-optimal, it can help to look at the root cause of the problem, but it can be more productive- both immediately and in the long term- to shift the focus to formulating a solution.

Aren’t those the same thing?, you might ask. Yes and no; a solution-focused approach is still problem solving, but it involves a shift towards visualizing a different future that augments what does work, rather than only trying to fix what doesn't.  

According to Steve de Shazer and Insoo Berg, who pioneered research in the field, solution-focused thinking could be summarized with three basic rules:

  • Don’t fix what isn’t broken.
  • Find out what works, and do more of it.
  • Stop doing what doesn’t work, and do something else.

It sounds simple. But following the rule “don’t fix what isn’t broken” necessitates knowing what is already working in terms of product-market fit, or employee culture. These rules also allow for the fact that change occurs constantly, so a problem doesn’t have one solution. Finding “what works” is a constant process.

Another way to think about this approach, as summarized by the National Behavior Support Service, is that it helps employees:

  • Build on success by focusing on what they’re doing well rather than what’s going wrong.
  • Find exceptions by figuring out when a problem occurs less, and build upon those strengths. 
  • Stay future focused by visualizing life without the issue or barrier.

To implement those principles, leaders at an organization can take the following four steps, says Coert Visser, a progress-focused psychologist:

  1. Acknowledge problems. Acknowledge the problem without paying attention to the causes of the problem. What is the essence of the problem and how does it hinder you? How is it a problem to you?
     
  2. Describe Success: What do you want instead of the problem? What kind of success are you looking for? How will you know that the success happens? What will be better then? How will you be able to change your own behavior when the success happens?
     
  3. Identify and analyze positive exceptions: When has the success happened already in the past, if only a little bit? Describe the situation; what was different? What caused this success to happen? What was your contribution to this success? How did you do this?
     
  4. Take a small step forward: Think about your answers in step three for awhile. Which aspects of the positive exceptions could you use again? Think about a small step forward, which you could take tomorrow.

While these questions sound personal, and could be used to help employees focus on individual goals, they can also be applied to a product cycle and incorporated into a lean startup approach.

What do you think; would this approach work at your startup? What systems do you employ to get keep iterating towards success?

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