Money Matters

The 4 Types of Problem-Solvers (and Why Knowing Which One You Are Will Make You More Successful)


Entrepreneurs are typically highly motivated individuals. Driven and ambitious, they see the reward in taking less predictable approaches and embracing routines that stray from the standard 9 to 5 in pursuit of the big break.

When you are solely responsible for your own success, removed from the safety net of corporate infrastructure and hierarchical team structures, you have an immense need for self-motivation. The motivations of others also become more impactful. But motivation is far more complex than we often realize. Different minds are stimulated in different ways–it’s this intricate blend of psyches that makes work culture so fascinating. Through diverse approaches, even those that conflict with one another, we land on solutions that are far more interesting than those we would if everyone were programed to think the same way.

However, these mindsets don’t necessarily work in synergy, and so maximizing them–both our own and others’–is as much about acknowledging them as it is about displaying them in the first place. I’ve found that people operate on extreme motivations that fall into four distinct categories, and while this is not a judgmental spectrum it does offer some insight into how individuals operate and how to get the best out of them. It’s about various ways we can think about who we are in the world of business and invention.

1. You’re either problem-oriented, focused on a challenge, or solution-oriented, focused on resolution.

There are two ways to tackle a problem. First, you can zone in on the issue at hand and explore appropriate responses that will lead to an effective end result. There is an absence of reality here, and it can have the potential to be too narrowly focused as you become embroiled in the issue at hand. Alternatively, you can look beyond the problem itself and picture the positive outcome you want to work toward. By focusing on this, you allow for change and fluidity, adapting the individual solutions along the way.

Think about it in the context of setting up a new business. A leader who is problem-oriented will consider the steps needed to reach the short-term goal of making money–the number of clients required, the budgets required, and so on. A solution-oriented individual will consider the bigger picture–long-term business growth, acquisition, diversification–and create a route to resolution based on that. Through a more future-focused lens, incremental solutions can be found along the journey to this goal.

2. You’re either task-oriented, focused on progress, or goal-oriented, focused on accomplishment.

Project management typically falls into two schools of thought. There are those who break the work down into tasks that are assigned to different groups, who then work step by step like a symphony as they pursue measured progress. Work becomes highly processed, with each achievement being accomplished in methodical and ordered ways. On the other hand, we see individuals who focus on the end goal and allow for change and adaptation along the way. By prioritizing the anticipated accomplishment, these people can be more fluid and flexible, allowing for unanticipated changes along the way.

3. You’re either competitively oriented, focused on being the best, or collaboratively oriented, focused on working together.

In the U.S., in particular, we are constantly fed messages that pertain to achievement and winning. The American dream is built on prosperity and success, and from an early age we are encouraged to idealize being the best. Competitively oriented people are motivated to pursue individual excellence–they want to be number one. Yet there are others who are no less driven but instead seek satisfaction through collaboration and shared ambition: connecting with others, mining group intelligence, and maintaining unity among the group. When working with such individuals, it’s critical to maintain contact and assign roles, in contrast to competitively oriented people who perform best when given a task and are met at the other end.

4. You’re either self-identity oriented, focused on personal identity, or collective-identity oriented, focused on belonging or the sense of team. 

The final categorization is perhaps the most intriguing and applies to a deeper personal impulse. While the other characteristics apply to an individual’s approach to his or her work and professional attainment, motivations around identity are indicative of a more intrinsic desire. Those focused on self-identity are motivated by activities that will further their personal brand. Decisions are made on the basis of the value they offer to furthering oneself, with each achievement considered a steppingstone to self-promotion. Alternatively, a possibly more intuitive group favors collective identity, shared values, and ambitions combined for a more holistic definition of success.

So, what does this mean for your business?

No single approach is better than the other. Instead, recognizing and understanding these motivational drivers will yield the best results. As individuals, we benefit from self-awareness and exploration. Spend time considering your motivations, and you can build a working environment that will encourage a higher success rate. When considering clients and colleagues, use motivational drivers like a tool; celebrate the diversity and show empathy toward the ways in which you can work best with each approach. Flexibility is key to maximizing these innate characteristics–doing this can help you and your business thrive.

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