How do we overcome problems in business?

Look at problems.

What do you see when you look at a problem? What if you were a dentist, and tomorrow someone invented something that gave everyone perfect teeth? What if you were a pilot and someone invented teleportation?

I realise these are slightly facetious examples, but we’re faced with problems and obstacles every day of our lives and how we respond to them says a lot about who we are as people and as business leaders.

Recognising a problem

All over the world, businesses are struggling to adapt to the challenges wrought by digital technology. Some industries have been hit particularly hard by the digital revolution. In 1999, for example, traditional record companies made US$14.6 billion, but only ten years later, that figure stood at just $6.3 billion. Music industry insiders call it the lost decade.

That isn’t to say that the music industry as a whole has suffered. Bands focus more on touring now and tech companies like Apple are reaping the rewards investing in innovative ways of music delivery. What the story does show, however, is the importance of meeting challenges. The successful companies innovated; the unsuccessful ones dithered.

So many industries have been hit hard by the digital revolution. How each has responded to it says a lot about how they operate.

There are exceptions to this story as well. Sometimes is pays to be conservative. When putting content online for free started eating into The Times newspaper’s subscriber base, they put up a paywall and increased both subscribers and revenue. Some papers that didn’t, like The Guardian, which has embraced free online content, are struggling and losing money. 

Overcoming a problem

Technological innovation has always been both a challenge and an opportunity. I think the stories above reveal an important way for businesses to embrace problems.

Look at the music industry example. The companies that survived in that environment were the ones that innovated, that changed their practices and realised that the old regime was over. By innovating, they not only staved off failure, but they also created new, successful products.

The second important thing to learn is to play to your strengths. When you come across a problem, pause and think what unique capabilities you and your team have to solve it. This is what successful newspapers have done. They’ve created models that protect and monetise the unique parts of their business: their content, while harnessing the Internet’s ability to share it.

Every day you will come across small and large obstacles in life and in business. At The Cobra Group of Companies and at Appco Group, I have certainly come across my fair share of problems. However, thinking innovatively and marshaling all of your unique capabilities and strengths to overcome those problems will help you succeed.

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