This is the 27th of a series of newsletters published on Business Management and Management Skills. Not all topics will apply to your business, but each section will be beneficial to establish company goals and objectives. By reading and studying these newsletter articles, you’re taking the first step in achieving your goals.

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We encounter problems every day, at home and at work, with our families and our associates. And we spend a tremendous amount of time and energy trying to solve them. Many times we find that we haven’t! There is a theory called “breakthrough thinking,” which is an approach to planning and problem solving based on scientific theories and years of research. It begins by defining our purpose in solving a problem, rather than focusing on what is wrong in a situation.

Breakthrough thinking assumes that the world is always in a state of flux. Each solution often creates a new problem (today becomes history, the future becomes today). No matter how similar the problems may appear on the surface, no one solution can work all the time or for all things. To take advantage of these ever-changing conditions, this process always seeks out the solution-after-next. As a result, it represents a process rather than a fixed goal - a flexible plan to achieve what matters most to us. The process is founded upon the following basic principles:

The Solution-After-Next Principle. Innovation can be stimulated and solutions made more effective by working backward from an ideal target solution.
The Uniqueness Principle. Each problem is unique and requires a different approach. Although no two situations are alike, most people rely on impulsive idea-borrowing to solve their problems.
Problem solvers who accept differences are much more likely to be successful than those who see only similarities, and who try to shoehorn borrowed solutions into situations where they are not appropriate. When the only tool you have is a hammer, all problems tend to look like nails.
The Purposes Principle. Focusing on purposes helps strip away nonessential aspects to avoid working on the wrong problem
In applying this principle, for example, a job seeker might accept a lower salary at a growing firm with strong opportunities for advancement, rather than a higher salary in a dead-end job at a small family firm. The key question is not “what is best for me next week,” but “what do I want to be doing five years from now?”
The Systems Principle. Every problem is part of a larger system. Nothing exists by itself. Successful problem solving (and problem prevention) takes into account these interrelationships between many elements and dimensions.
The Limited Information Collection Principle. Knowing too much about a problem initially can prevent you from seeing some excellent alternative solutions.
Information junkies think that facts are the keys to problem solving, and that the more facts you have, the better your solution will be. They fail to realize that facts are only static representations of the real world, not the real world itself. Representations can be distorted, poorly interpreted, irrelevant (the wrong problem) or just plain wrong. Even if they are accurate, a flurry of facts will obscure the primary problem-solving factor in any good solution - the purpose for it.

The People Design Principle. The people who will carry out and use a solution must work together to develop the solution. A perfectly designed plan poorly executed will fail. An imperfectly designed plan perfectly executed will succeed.
Too many meetings end up being attempts to assign blame. Because they focus on the particulars of a problem, participants take turns in pointing fingers at someone else. Alternative: At the beginning of the meeting, ask everyone to discuss the purpose of your getting together. When individuals feel free to express their needs, they become more useful (and less defensive) contributors.
The Betterment Timeline Principle. A sequence of purpose-directed solutions will lead to a better future.
Breakthroughs often occur over a period of time, not just at one point. The easy, foolproof solution is usually a patch job - and it's almost always wrong. Since solutions are changes that include the seeds of later changes, this principle demands continual improvement in the area of concern. Traditional thinkers say, "if it isn't broken, don't fix it!" But breakthrough thinkers say, "Fix it before it breaks!"

In spite of the most careful planning, it is impossible to anticipate every problem. You can’t accurately predict long-range weather, sickness, business conditions, or financial security of your customers. So, when a problem shows up, make sure you understand the facts in order to attack it directly. Dealing with the side effects or secondary impacts will not remove the problem. Covering up for an employee who is often late or absent without cause is only a temporary solution. Find out why, and take a course of action. The longer the noxious weed is allowed to grow, the deeper the roots, and the more difficult it is to remove.

On occasion, there will be no clear-cut solution. In such cases, when you recommend action, have an alternative plan in mind to be used in case of failure. I have a technique that I use with my employees that seems to work very well because it not only reduces my problem-solving responsibilities, it instills greater confidence in problem solving for them. I tell them: “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions. I have more than enough problems - what I need are solutions for the ones I already have!”

Mike Holt’s Comment: I would like to extend a special thank you to L.W. Brittian, a Mechanical & Electrical Instructor in Lott, Texas, for reviewing and editing the various articles in these newsletters. His comments and suggestions have been invaluable in the preparation of my Business Management and Management Skills’ Workbook. This newsletter article was extracted from that workbook. Watch for our next newsletter, and as always, we invite your comments and feedback. Send us your real-life experiences. We value your opinions and participation. Please respond to And… be sure to visit Mike Holt’s Website at

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