Perhaps sparked by the recent recession, I'm seeing a new era of the entrepreneur, with startups springing up all around. Based on my own mentoring and investing experience, the best entrepreneurs are pragmatic problem solvers. They have an uncanny ability to find elegant, easy, and fast solutions to pain points in the marketplace, as well as their own challenges.
The real question is whether problem solving is a skill you have to be born with, or is there any hope for the rest of us to become successful entrepreneurs. After some review of available resources, I'm convinced that problem solving is a learnable trait, rather than just a birthright.
For example, I just completed a new book by Penina Rybak, "The NICE Reboot," that does a great job of outlining problem solving steps, honed from working with special needs youngsters. While her book is aimed primarily at aspiring female entrepreneurs, my adaptation of the five steps of her problem-solving hierarchy should work equally well for entrepreneurs of any gender:
The best way for a first time entrepreneur to learn problem solving is to find a partner who has "been there and done that." A good alternative is to enlist the help of a business mentor you can trust. The best mentor is sensitive, knowledgeable across a broad spectrum, but is probably not your best friend. A mentor has to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. When the message is the same from both, you don't need the mentor anymore.
As mentioned earlier, one of the most difficult traits to overcome for effective problem solving is perfectionism. A while back, Amanda Neville wrote an incisive article for Forbes online entitled "Perfectionism is the Enemy of Everything." In it, she lists three types of perfectionism that are equally toxic to entrepreneurs and mentors:
- Self-oriented perfectionism, in which individuals impose high standards on themselves.
Perfectionism quashes the desire to ask for help, see others' viewpoints and empathize, and promote teamwork. For help on this one, I recommend Esther Crain's article "Five Ways to Blast Perfectionism and Get Your Work Done."
With all these incentives, maybe it's time for you to reboot your career and join the new era of the entrepreneur. Problem solving may be a required skill, but it's definitely one that can be learned, independent of your IQ or book smarts (there may even be an inverse relationship here).
The best part of the entrepreneur lifestyle is that it can bring satisfaction and happiness to your work. According to a study by the Wharton School of Business of 11,000 MBA graduates, those running their own businesses ranked themselves happier than all other professions, regardless of how much money they made. Life is too short to go to work unhappy every day.