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Problem solving is one of the most important intangible business skills, and yet it’s not something that can be easily tested for when hiring.  The most successful organizations today are masters at turning problems into opportunities to beat their competition. What we can learn about problem solving, we learn by looking at the solutions companies provide.

A great example of this is Amazon Prime.  If you asked me a two years ago if I would consider purchasing the majority of my discretionary income at a place where I don’t get to see and touch the products before I buy them, or at least talk to someone at a store about the product, there would be no way in the world I would consider doing it.

Two short years ago my daughter gave me a free subscription to Amazon Prime and I’m embarrassed to tell you how much money I spent there in the last 24 months.  There have been times I tried to meet the UPS man on our porch before he could ring our doorbell so my wife wouldn’t know I got “another package” from Amazon.

Why do I buy so much from Amazon and not the big box stores?

  1. Rarely if ever a problem or mistake – they do what they say they will do and if I do have a problem they take care of it right away and exceed my expectations.
  2. Saves driving time to the store. If you factor my time (time is truly money) and fuel to get to the store and back, it’s actually probably cheaper.
  3. You can find virtually anything on their site – I really don’t understand how they do it.
  4. The reviews – I really believe them.

Your probably wondering what Amazon has to do with problem solving?

Well everything!

Close your eyes and pretend it’s ten years ago, imagine yourself in a conference room at work. You’re listening to your boss tell you that your company intends to sell millions of different products that no one in your organization knows anything about. He also boasts that you’ll sell these products cheaper than virtually any competitor in almost every industry and deliver them for free to people’s homes in two days, and if they pay a little more they can get them the next day.

How many potential problems would roll off your tongue with little or no effort?  How much resistance would your boss face trying to get you and everyone else to buy in and begin figuring out ways to accomplish his impossible goal?  There’s probably not enough paper in the world to write down of all the reasons your boss’s idea would never work.  Somehow Amazon defined the problems they faced, got to the root causes of each, came up with solutions and acted on them and now they have me writing an unsolicited blog about how great they are at problem solving.

Why let Amazon have all the problem solving fun and success?

Here’s a quick way to Amazon your world:

  1. Pick a problem/challenge you’ve been ignoring at home or at work.
  2. Write one sentence explaining it and make sure it doesn’t contain blame or hidden solutions.
  3. Jot down what you think are the root causes of your challenge.
  4. Brainstorm a couple of potential solutions.
  5. Pick one solution that you think would be the most workable and try it. Start with small problems and repeat the steps above until the problem goes away.
  6. Mark your calendar for 30 days in the future and look at your original problem and ask yourself if it still exists and if so re-start at step number two.

Most of us don’t do step six and the problem comes back or your solution may have created unintended consequences. Don’t worry – this is progress – How many roadblocks do you think Amazon faced getting to where they are today?