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3 Steps to More Insightful Thinking

It's easy to fall back on 'group think' to address business challenges. But if you really want to generate game-changing ideas, you need a different approach.

How do you think about your biggest business problems? We recently sat down with an executive who runs a leading global manufacturing business. He talked about one of his company's biggest challenges:  how to effectively manage risk in a global supply chain.

Managing a portfolio of raw material suppliers had become increasingly complex, and recent natural disasters had disrupted some of this company's most reliable suppliers. While the business was concerned with managing unfamiliar risks, the issue raised a much broader question about how the business should address disruptive challenges.

Challenging the most deeply held beliefs of your business is key to staying a step ahead of both your competition and the next market challenge. Here are three ways to think differently about your business and develop game-changing solutions to common problems.

1. Remember that your problems aren't unique.

Analogous challenges may have already been solved by other businesses. Immerse yourself in case studies from other industries from time to time and ask, "How could this be applied to my business"?

2. Solutions to your business's toughest problems likely do not reside within your four walls.

Overcoming "group think" sometimes requires an adventure into the unknown. Consider how you would describe your problem to a complete stranger (obviously omitting confidential details), then give it a try. You may be surprised at the insights you gain listening to someone else think about your problems.

3. Conduct a "thought experiment" with your team to understand issues you may not have considered before.

We also call this technique "hypothesis-driven" problem solving, in which you begin with a principle or assertion about the business and then attempt to defend or disprove that hypothesis through facts. Oftentimes, the more extreme hypotheses lead to the most insightful comments and innovative solutions.

While managing a business isn't an exact science, it certainly is a process-driven discipline. Finding ways to extend your thinking beyond your industry, engage with diverse perspectives, and challenge your team's approach will often lead you to new insights, keeping your business one step ahead of the competition.

What do you do to challenge conventional wisdom? Let us know your thoughts by emailing us at

Avondale Associate Chris Lyman contributed to this article. 

Last updated: Aug 10, 2012

KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART | Columnist | Co-founders, Avondale

Karl Stark and Bill Stewart are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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