October 14th 2020

The problem with the problem

A sentence that I often use to say is: "We humans basically have a problem with the problem! I believe that it is simply in our nature. Because the fact is, we humans are by nature a rather cozy species. We love routine and familiar structures and patterns give us support and security. Problems, on the other hand, force us to rethink. This in turn requires effort, strength and courage to step out of the comfort zone. It is precisely our need for security that gets us into trouble.

The matter of security

Humanistic psychology attaches immense importance to the need for security. I'm sure you're familiar with Abraham Maslow's pyramid of needs, aren't you? Maslow was an American psychologist and is considered the founding father of humanistic and positive psychology. He became famous for his pyramid of needs. In it, he presents the five human needs arranged hierarchically according to their relevance. Maslow distinguishes between the categories of deficit needs and growth needs.

Accordingly, deficit needs are the foundation of our physical and mental health. They arise when there are deficiencies, i.e., when they are not sufficiently satisfied. First and foremost, the basic needs (i.e., physical needs such as food, sleep or sex) come first. Only when these are sufficiently met, the need for security can be provided for. Maslow includes instances such as income, work or housing situation. In third place comes the social need. This includes all social contacts, which are manifested in the areas of friendship, partnership and family.

Growth needs, on the other hand, can only be realized when all deficit needs have been met. Consequently, these include individual needs and, finally, self-realization. Individual needs are primarily about the desire for recognition, social acceptability, and validity. The top of Maslow's pyramid of needs, the icing on the cake, so to speak, the goal of all human striving, is the desire for self-actualization.

These insights can be excellently adapted to an entrepreneurial context. Particularly individual needs come to bear in the form of personnel management and employee satisfaction. And, I think we all agree, the most important pillar of a successful company according to self-actualization is satisfied, motivated and committed employees.

It is not the problem that worries us, but how we deal with it!

As I notice again and again, many of us fail already at step two, the need for security. And this is due, to return to my initial thesis, to our attitude towards problems. We shy away from problems out of fear of change and loss of security. We like to hedge our bets both forward and backward.

Admittedly, tackling problems, rethinking and taking a step "out of the box" can be scary. In the end, though, it doesn't matter what name we give it: Habit, laziness to think, or fear. And it often does us little good to place the blame on others. So, if you permanently postpone your problems, you shouldn't be surprised if you lie awake in bed for hours in the evening because of worry. I believe it is not the problem itself that causes us worry, but how we deal with it.

"If you spend too much time at night worrying about tomorrow's problems, you'll be too tired the next day to solve them." - Reiner Haak, German writer

The desire for decision uncertainty...

The desire for decision certainty should be familiar to all of us. We always know more afterwards, but it is difficult to know beforehand. In the entrepreneurial context, problem management is often a real challenge. Especially when it comes to important decisions, the consequences of which are difficult to assess and, in the worst case, cost jobs, problems can quickly have a paralyzing effect on us.

Learn to love your problems or find someone who will do it for you!

"Learn to love your problems!", admittedly - that sounds a bit bold at first. What I'm trying to tell you is that we fundamentally need to internalize a new way of dealing with problems. What we really need, in my opinion, is a positive learning culture, instead of an error culture. Because when we stop seeing problems as disruptive factors and start seeing them as opportunities for growth, completely new possibilities will arise suddenly.

Especially when it comes to the desire for decision security, I as an entrepreneur see only one sensible approach: Decision security based on well-founded, valid and reliable market research! Figures, data and facts provide us with a basis on which we can weigh up, justify and finally also conscientiously represent decisions.

Market research cannot offer you a 100% probability of success, but it can offer you 100% certainty. Because decisions made on a data-based foundation have a decisive advantage even in the event of failure: they are insightful, they uncover problematic levers and point to growth potential.

A problem is therefore not simply a problem, but rather a necessary vehicle for continuous improvement. As a market researcher, I therefore do not see problems as obstacles on the path to entrepreneurial success, but rather as directional pillars. And if you allow me, I will gladly take your problems off your hands!

Herbert Höckel

Herbert Höckel is a managing partner here at moweb research GmbH. He has been a market researcher for more than 25 years. In 2004 he founded moweb GmbH, which he is still the owner today. moweb from Düsseldorf operates internationally and is one of the first German market research institutes specializing in digital processes.

You are welcome to purchase his book "Customer Centricity Mindset ® - Really Understand Customers, Master Disruption Successfully" here.

Authentic, Direct, Real.