When I was studying Marketing at Melbourne University, I initially had difficulty solving complex business problems until a colleague, Clive Hall, provided me with a practical approach that moved my results from Cs to As and has served me well ever since. It comprises a statement of the problem; gathering of facts and evidence; identification or creation of alternative solutions; evaluation of those solutions; and a recommendation for action. Forty years later it still seems like a good approach.

But what if I did not have all the facts? Business is so complex. Who could foresee the impact of adding a new role to an organisation – or even a new employee in an existing one; adding a new product or service; or implementing a new ERP system? It is quite unlikely that solutions devised by one person and handed down for others to use will be optimal – people resist working with new ways that they have not been involved in developing. We pay most attention to what we measure and often miss other relevant data. As Paul Simon sang, “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest“. So a single person will not have all the facts.

What if I did not have the ingenuity to imagine all possible solutions? My ability is nurtured by my experiences and my practice in solving similar problems. I will not have all the ideas.

My alternative to one person analyzing the problem and recommending a preferred solution is experimentation. Firstly, involve lots of people in the process. Always ask “Who else can contribute?” Then trial lots of solutions. Test to see which ones work. Do not wait to find the one perfect solution. Use the better ones now. Iterate. Be happy to use solutions that work for now, but always be ready to replace them with a better ones.

This is the process used by nature. Creatures absorb information from their environment and respond to it. They are constantly changing, assessing the new situation and adapting to it. This is also the process of the free market. Entrepreneurs assess the response of consumers to their products and services – including price, delivery method, warranties etc. – and modify them to make them more appealing.

So while Clive’s format serves us well for most problems, for really complex ones “We need a constantly expanding array of data, views and interpretations if we are to make wise sense of the world. We need to include more and more eyes“. (Margaret Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science). Moreover, we need to trial alternative solutions and to be forever replacing existing processes with improved ones. That is the way to growth and success.

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Written By Peter Fenwick

Peter was born in Geelong and educated at Geelong College. He studied Civil Engineering at the Gordon Institute of Technology and Melbourne University, graduating in 1966. In 1972 he completed an MBA with distinction at Melbourne University. He studied philosophy under Fr. Eric Darcy and is an alumni of the Cranlana Colloquium and a member of the Mises Institute. For thirty-five years, Peter managed Fenwick Software which he founded in 1976. In 2011, he established an employee shareholder scheme and five of his long-term staff now own seventy–five percent of the company; one of them, Greg Galloway, manages the business. Peter remains involved part-time as chairman. He has been married to Jill, a school teacher and author, since 1966. They have three sons and three grandchildren. He enjoys jazz, film and theatre, and plays tennis, royal tennis and chess. He has written two books: The Fragility of Freedom: Why Subsidiarity Matters and Liberty at Risk: Tackling Today’s Political Problems. Both are published by Connor Court. His blogs appear on his website

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