Solving Problems – Weekend Reflections for Leaders

Solving Problems:

Over the last several weeks, we have been sharing some concepts for leaders to better understand as they consider making a career transition from a large multi-national company to building the next chapter of their career in a smaller, early-stage business. The forward edge of innovation happens in the early-stage across all industries. Large companies have transferred massive amounts of resources from internal R&D functions to business development efforts focused on acquisitions and licensing deals as the primary means for remaining competitive in a global marketplace that continues to accelerate innovation outside of the 4 walls of large corporations.

Leaders who have built an effective set of skills while working for a large company are needed in the early-stage to help bring innovations forward in the market. We hear from leaders everyday who are energized by leveraging their skills and experiences to create their own unique path to a fulfilling professional journey in the early stage. In addition, the risk of all of us being “Amazoned” in the not-too-distant future is real. Being on the forward edge of innovation in the early-stage is one way to stay ahead of the threat of becoming extinct as marketplaces become more efficient in serving customers.

The focus for today’s topic is on helping leaders understand the pace and focus on solving problems that consumes the time and energy of teams in the early stage of innovation. Leaders in large companies are typically not problem-solving significant business issues on a routine basis. There are teams that meet at regular intervals to assess the health of the business and routinely rely on committees to bring about potential solutions to business challenges. The rate and pace of problem solving is on a quarterly and annual basis.

Leaders in early-stage companies are typically in daily problem-solving mode. The agency required to switch from C-Suite level strategy to immediate fire-drill, problem-solving mode is a critical element of leadership in early-stage companies. Typically, within large companies, leaders will use the cadence of large, routine meetings to kick around ideas on defining the problem, think about it some more, maybe bring in some consultants to discuss, and typically postpone a decision or action until gathering some additional information. In early-stage companies, there is a bias for near term action (today, tomorrow or before the end of the week). This is a major difference in the cadence when compared to large companies.

The pace of problem solving and decision making is rapid in early-stage companies. However, it should not be viewed as just “winging it” either. This is precisely why leaders from large companies are needed in these early-stage companies. They bring a foundational discipline to think through issues thoroughly, weigh the benefits and risks in a thoughtful manner, etc. Disciplined decision making is desperately needed in early-stage companies and leaders coming in from large companies need to be sensitized to the reality that we need that decision today, in this meeting, as opposed to waiting until the next meeting to make that decision.

One clear example of the different pace within large and small companies is the responsiveness of senior executives to customer challenges. It is a familiar scenario that as problems filter up the chain of command in large companies, there is often the frustration of scheduling conflicts that prevent important meetings with customers from happening for weeks, if not months.

The typical response in an early-stage company is almost immediate. My response to many customer issues went something like this, “I can be on a flight that lands in New York by 3 p.m. and can be at your office by 4:00 p.m. today. Will that work or do you prefer to discuss the issue first thing in the morning?”

The reality faced by many leaders making the transition from a large company to a small company is that the pendulum has shifted to where the company’s survival may in fact be in the hands of one or two customers. Therefore, everything else becomes second in priority to addressing any problems with those customers.

Leaders transitioning from large companies to the early-stage need to be problem solvers. Often these problems move beyond commercial problems to include product quality, investor challenges, and bordering on the potential ethical questions on how to keep the company going during difficult times.

Strong leadership is needed in the early-stage marketplace and leaders from large companies have the skills and experience to create great value at the forward edge of innovation. As we look to build and strengthen our leadership over a long-term career journey, the early-stage market is fertile ground to learn, grow, and bring world-leading innovation to the market.

How can I help you today? My mobile is 269-370-9275 and my email is

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Also, for those leaders in healthcare, the opportunity to be at the forefront of creating and scaling life-changing innovation resides in the early stage. This sector needs strong leaders like yourself to drive innovation in the years to come. I wanted to share a link to a program specifically for leaders in healthcare who are looking for insights into building the next chapter of their career in the early-stage. I was asked to contribute to this program based on my experience of leaving a large healthcare company and building my career in the early-stage. Please take a look at the link below.