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Counterintuitive Problem-Solving Trick: Complain!

We're sitting through a flight delay and my friend won't shut up. I finally can't stand it. "Is it possible," I say, "that you could stop whining and complaining about your business for just five minutes?"

"I'm not complaining," he says. "I'm problem solving."

Fortitude in the face of adversity is usually perceived as virtuous self-restraint. Most of us try to keep our upper lips stiff: We don't grumble, don't complain, and definitely don't whine. (At least not out loud.)

But that reserve could cause you to ignore opportunities to improve your business. Every day software crashes, equipment goes down, employees struggle, processes go off track... and over time you've learned to live with a number of chronic problems. It's like the "Open House" syndrome: Walk through a house for sale and you notice every mark on the wall, every spot on the carpet, every scratch on the counter tops, yet you no longer see those same defects in your own home. You've gotten so used to the cabinet door that won't shut properly you don't even notice anymore.

And it doesn't get fixed.

That's why complaining is actually a great business tool. Complaining exposes problems -- problems that cost you time and money.

So loosen up that upper lip and start complaining! Grab a pad and list every complaint you have: About employees, customers, vendors, equipment, facilities... go nuts. Pretend you're Larry David on CEDs (Complaint Enhancing Drugs).

Think about every delay, every hassle, every headache... everything. The nit-pickier the better. Write them all down.

Then rework the old expression, "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." Complain about something once and you have identified a problem. Complain about the same thing twice and you have identified a different problem -- the fact you failed to solve the original complaint.

Which complaints cost the most money, waste the most time, and impact your business the most? Start fixing them.

And don't stop there. Remove all your "mature" complaint filters. Every time something in your business goes wrong -- or even goes less than perfectly -- complain about it. Turn yourself loose. Big problems, small problems -- all problems. Complain away.

Every complaint is an opportunity for improvement. The more you complain to yourself, the better -- as long as you always take the next step and fix the underlying reasons for your complaints.

When you do, you're not a complainer. You're a problem solver.

Update: Based on the first three comments below I realize I didn't explain myself well. (And certainly not for the first time.) When I say "complain," I mean you should complain to yourself. Not to other people. Don't share and spread the pain.

We all tend to let stuff go. Instead, think of everything about your business you could complain about if you didn't have any filters or have stopped noticing certain chronic issues, write them all down, and start fixing the problems.

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Image courtesy flickr user david_shankbone, CC 2.0