Harnessing the Power of Hypothesis-Driven Problem-Solving in Business

April 30, 2024

In every aspect of business, problem-solving is a fundamental skill. It's not just about finding solutions; it's about crafting a narrative that connects an issue to its solution through the strategic use of language. This narrative often follows a structure we might colloquially term as "A, but B, so the question is..."

Take, for example, a desire to purchase a Mercedes—an expensive piece of car. The issue is straightforward: "I want to buy a Mercedes, but I don't have enough money, so the question is, how can I gather enough funds to buy a Mercedes?" This form of questioning is not just about seeking answers; it raises awareness, engages critical thinking, and aligns us to the task at hand.

This technique is pivotal in business settings. Let's look at another scenario: "We need to achieve efficient cost-saving through our procurement system. But only 20% of our workforce is utilizing it, so the question is, how can we increase adoption of our procurement process to 100%?" Here, the situation is not just about acknowledging the problem; it’s about exploring the solution space with precision and conscious effort.

It's a journey that begins with understanding the hierarchy of questions. Among these, "What can we do about it?" stands out as the most crucial one. It's about focusing on the "so what" and pushing past the "interesting, thanks" stage. It's the question that moves us from passive contemplation to active solution-finding.

As business owners, consultants, or problem solvers, our job is to navigate through the complex maze of client communication—where often, the client knows there's a problem but can't articulate what they need. It's our role to be patient and diligent, to frame the issue back to them, to validate and understand, much like how a therapist listens to guide their patient.

In regions like APAC, where the utilization of consultants is still maturing compared to markets like the US, setting expectations becomes a two-way street. It's about collaborating to define the scope and success criteria of the project. It's essential to ensure that there is an alignment, even if it's not perfect.

To this end, we start meetings by framing them as exploratory discussions, where perfection isn't the goal—progress is. This mindset allows for value addition and embraces an agile way of working.

Engagement and alignment with stakeholders are not one-off events; they are continuous touchpoints where feedback is gathered, and check-ins are frequent. It's not just about the ego of the consultant; it's about integrating clients into the solution-building process, working together, and being seen not as an outsider but as a partner.

So, how does one differentiate between a hypothesis and a solution? Data. A hypothesis remains an educated guess until it's tested against real-world variables. Hence, we often approach this with a "blah, but blah, so the question is..." format, making the logic clear, and the pathway to resolution transparent.

While it may be interesting to know why a problem exists, it's more critical to understand how to reverse it. This may involve a top-down or bottom-up approach, depending on the complexity of the issue. But remember, in business, less is often more. We prioritize—the top three hypotheses are focused on, not ten, because time is never on our side.

In conclusion, the power of hypothesis-driven problem-solving lies in its ability to drive work through focused inquiry. It's about choosing the low-hanging fruit and working agilely to find solutions. It's about taking a step back to see the bigger picture and avoid the pitfalls that can throw an organization off course. So the next time you're faced with a business challenge, remember: start with the hypothesis, validate it with data, and let it guide you to the solution.

Profile picture

Victor Leung, who blog about business, technology and personal development. Happy to connect on LinkedIn