Asking “What If?” Instead of “What’s the Problem?”

10th October, 2013 No Comments Blog

Making a new company (or just about any type of organization) into a success is hard.  The odds are stacked against you.  And there’s always something wrong; in fact, there are always more problems than a founder would have time to list, much less solve.  Customer complaints.  Bugs.  Overdue bills.  Overdue receivables.  Hiring challenges.  The list goes on.  As such, it is easy to get stuck in the trap of fixing problems – to start every day, every meeting by asking “what’s the [biggest, most urgent] problem?”

I think it can be very powerful to ask “what if?” instead.  Founders have this instinct – it is the question “what if” that underlies many startup ideas.  But once a company is formed around an initial concept, an initial answer to the question “what if?,” the problems start rolling in.  Some of those problems – a website or service crash or other catastrophe – do have to be dealt with immediately.  But many of them can also be addressed by stepping back and asking “what if” questions:  What if we didn’t respond to [every, this] customer complaint?; What if we just shipped now?; What if we scrapped our current product and went in a totally new direction?.

Asking these types of questions won’t always save the day, but sometimes doing so will help you change direction in a fundamental way.  We spend most of our time finding answers to questions we pose or that are asked of us by others.  Capable people can find answers to the questions at hand; the real trick is making sure we are asking the right questions.

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