How Do You Solve Impossible Business Problems?


Karthik Siva

There will be a few times in your life when you encounter challenges that are of tsunami like proportions and way beyond your capacity to resolve. Is there a practical way to address huge problems ? Let’s explore some of these methods.

1. Chunk the problem into small pieces

A friend of mine met me recently saying he had racked up more than a million dollars in debt. He did not have the means or the assets to pay them off. He had a family with two kids. I suggested that he break the million dollar debt into 20 bits of 50,000 dollar debts. It would be impossible for most people to repay a million dollars in one go. But it would be possible to pay off a 50,000 dollar debt. Breaking a big problem into smaller problems makes it easier to manage the problem.

2. Spend 75 % of your time and attention on the solution rather than on the problem

Whatever you focus on expands, gets exaggerated and even becomes larger than life. So when you focus most of your energies on the problem, the problem appears bigger than it really is and can completely overwhelm you. So a simple rule to consider is this – Focus 75 % of your time on developing or brainstorming solutions – that way your solutions will appear bigger than the problem.

3. Ask yourself – What can you learn from this problem?

Often, the big problems we encounter in life can become positive turning points for us if we learn from the problem. Some of the learnings could be…

  • Maybe we did not focus on the details and just glossed over it
  • Maybe we trusted people without verifying facts
  • Maybe we were not financially savvy or literate

When we learn from them, we cease to become victims of the problem.

4. Take small actions

A big problem often paralyzes us. The good news is this – we need not to take big actions to fix a big problem. A million miles can only be travelled one mile at a time. So small systematic steps over a period of time dissolves even the mightiest of problems!

5. Transform the problem into a challenge.

And the challenge into an opportunity. It is possible to transform a problem into a challenge by changing your perspective. Never waste a crisis is an often used cliché.

Who Has Done It?

Johnson & Johnson faced an existential crisis in the year 1982 on Sep 29th.

  • Tylenol was its most profitable brand.
  • 7 persons around Chicago died after consuming Tylenol.
  • It was found on investigation that Tylenol was laced with cyanide probably by a disgruntled employee or competitor.

How did they solve this “impossible” problem?

James Burke, the Chairman of Johnson & Johnson took a courageous decision to implement a complete recall of Tylenol across the United States even though the deaths occurred in and around Chicago. He was strongly discouraged by his board and his management team against this decision. This was a $ 100 million product recall. The biggest ever in corporate history! But he was convinced it was the right thing to do. He also made a heartfelt apology on Prime Time Television, and in doing so, went against the advice of his PR consultants.

In a few months, Johnson & Johnson reintroduced Tylenol with a tamper proof triple sealed packaging for extra protection. This was a packaging innovation that was later copied by several other competitors. Johnson & Johnson not only recovered their market share, they also salvaged their reputation by doing the right thing. This is an extreme but Gold standard example of a brand transforming the biggest crisis it faced in its history into a challenge and then converting it into an opportunity.

Your Next Steps:

  1. Chunk your problems on a paper by listing them out in smaller pieces
  2. Note down a minimum of 3 lessons you can learn from it
  3. Make one small baby step by today itself
  4. Schedule a brainstorming session with a trusted mentor/ peer
  5. Challenge yourself to one activity that may transform your current problem into an opportunity


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