How to become an effective problem finder

Leaders need to become hunters who venture out in search of the problems that might lead to disaster for their firms; they cannot wait for the problems to come to them, according to Michael Roberts in his book Know What You Don’t Know: How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen. Unfortunately most business schools teach students how to solve pre-defined problems rather than how to search out the problems in the first place.

According to the author, there are seven critical skills which must be mastered in order to someone to become an effective problem finder:

  • Circumvent the filters which prevent you from receiving accurate information, particularly bad news
  • Observe how groups of people behave in their natural settings
  • Search for and identify patterns
  • Connect the dots amongst seemingly disparate bits of information
  • Encourage people to take risks and learn from their mistakes
  • Refine your communication skills
  • Become adept at review and reflection

The book is based on almost 150 interviews with CEOs, business unit leaders and staff executives of small and large enterprises, relating to successes, failures and efforts to prevent failures from taking place. In my view there is nothing particularly surprising about the author’s findings or the seven critical skills which he has identified, but perhaps that is because it is fundamentally impossible to reduce the skill of finding previously unidentified problems to a science.

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