Question Everything: Your Company’s Biggest Problems Are Its Biggest Opportunities

The world’s biggest problems are the world’s biggest business opportunities.

This also holds true for you.

This post is a fun formula for fixing your problems while at the same time creating incredibly powerful startups.

Advice to CEOs and Entrepreneurs…

I recently keynoted for a group of hospital CEOs.

For good reason, they are really concerned about their future. Their industry is ripe for disruption by a variety of exponential technologies.

Today’s hospitals tend to be overly bureaucratic, inefficient, slow moving, expensive, confusing, and old-school in their processes and procedures.

Not surprisingly, they asked me what to do.

The conversation went something like, “We understand we need to change…but what problems do we solve first?”

My answer: Find a group of smart and curious 20-somethings, and give them the mission of interviewing your patients, employees and suppliers. Then have them catalogue and rate all of your problems.

Let me explain…

Hire 20-Somethings to Do Some Digging

I talk a lot about millennial entrepreneurs.

They are smart, hard working, and naïve—exactly the qualities you want in someone who is trying to reinvent a system.

They have no preconceived notions about the way the world (or a hospital, in this example) is supposed to work.

This gives them the ability to question everything—remember that “the day before something is a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea.”

I have a team of 20-somethings that I call my “Strike Force”—you’ll see why below—and I’ve been amazed by the brilliant ideas they come up with.

So where do you find your strike force? They may already work for you, or they might be grad students, or a group of local entrepreneurs.

What you’re looking for is passion and curiosity. Ideally one or multiple teams of three to five individuals with a background in science, engineering, and an understanding of where technology is going.

Question Everything and Everyone

With your Strike Force in place, give them the following instructions.

I want you to interview our company’s employees, suppliers and customers and document the major challenges we’re having:

  • What is unduly hard to accomplish?
  • Where are we missing quality?
  • Where are we behind the competition?
  • What are our customers’ biggest complaints?
  • Etc., etc…

Give them 4-6 weeks to literally walk around your company and examine everything. Tell them to talk to all of your employees, patients, servicemen, visitors, volunteers, staff, and so on. Everybody. Let them sit in different venues and observe how your business operates. Challenge them to think about how each and every process could be done better or differently. Make sure to emphasize that they have NO LIMITATIONS as to the ideas they can come up with—this is critical.

In summary, their goal is to document your company’s biggest problems…question everything.

Catalogue, Prioritize and Select

Next, ask them to come together, compile their findings, and write up their top 10-20 recommendations.

For each recommendation, rate them with regard to:

  • Financial impact to your company
  • Competitive impact for your company
  • Value of the solution as an entrepreneurial endeavor
  • Ease of implementation (time and money)

Fund the Best Ideas and Best Team(s)

Based on my experience doing this, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with their innovative attitude (perhaps naïveté and outsider perspective) and ability to put their finger on the biggest gold mines in your company.

Your goal is next to mine these gold mines.

Pick the brightest members of the Strike Force and fund them to develop the solution either internal to your business, or as outside entrepreneurial endeavors. Either way, you win.

Strike Force Guiding Principles

Here are three guiding principles to help guide your efforts:

  1. Listen to your customers, and the data they generate: The most successful, agile and sustainable companies are customer-centric at their core. They vehemently care about their customers’ experience and are constantly trying to improve it. Start collecting more data from them on your own—what did they like, what did they not like, how could you improve your service? You’ll be surprised to find how bright your own customers are when it comes to discovering problems in your business and ways to solve them.
  2. Start from a blank slate, then rebuild from first principles: If you were going to start your business tomorrow, how would you do it? Which services would you cancel, which would you maintain? Which would you reinvent? Really try to understand at its core what your business is and what it could be. Reason from first principles about what is possible and craft a vision that you can execute.
  3. Experiment, fail, then experiment again: Once you have a vision, you have to get comfortable experimenting with it, and probably failing a few times. Run 30- or 60-day experiments to test new ideas. You’ll be surprised to see that this is actually motivating and exciting to your employees.

Prioritizing Innovation

Disrupting yourself isn’t just a thought exercise. It’s not a rebranding. And it is certainly not something that is easy or simple to do.

It’s going to take some time, so the key is that you have to really commit to innovation.

You have to be open-minded and strong-willed at the same time. You have to be able to motivate your employees when experiments fail, and rein them in if they are going too far off the entrepreneurial cliff.

Your Strike Force will mine your problems for gold nuggets, but it’s YOU who will ultimately greenlight the effort to reinvent your business.

It’s a challenging task—but disrupting and reinventing your business is the only way to survive during these exponential times.

Image Credit:

Peter H. Diamandis, MD
Peter H. Diamandis, MD
Diamandis is the founder and executive chairman of the XPRIZE Foundation, which leads the world in designing and operating large-scale incentive competitions. He is also the executive founder and director of Singularity University, a global learning and innovation community using exponential technologies to tackle the world’s biggest challenges and build a better future for all. As an entrepreneur, Diamandis has started over 20 companies in the areas of longevity, space, venture capital, and education. He is also co-founder of BOLD Capital Partners, a venture fund with $250M investing in exponential technologies. Diamandis is a New York Times Bestselling author of two books: Abundance and BOLD. He earned degrees in molecular genetics and aerospace engineering from MIT and holds an MD from Harvard Medical School. Peter’s favorite saying is “the best way to predict the future is to create it yourself.”
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