Problem Solving, Barefoot Style: 5 Steps to Approach Any Problem

By Michael Houlihan

The success of the Barefoot Wine brand is living testimony to the problem-solving methods Bonnie Harvey and I employed in our early days. You can use these same methods to help overcome the problems your business faces on its journey from start-up to build-up and from build out to enterprise.

Barefoot Wine is now the world’s largest wine brand, but it had very humble beginnings. Bonnie and I started out in a laundry room in a rented farmhouse. We had no money and no knowledge of our industry. But these two apparent handicaps turned out to be the keys to our success.

Because we were underfinanced, we were forced to become resourceful. Because we were unfamiliar with our industry, we were forced to ask lots of questions.

Like most small and medium-sized business owners, we had no idea how much time would be involved, the opposition we would face, or the hurdles we would have to clear to gain distribution, remain compliant and manage our personnel. Every day new fires had to be put out. Unexpected bills popped up hungry for bucks.

All these obstacles challenged our early approach to solving problems, and after a while we began to develop a problem-solving process. Even when we were threatened with something completely unexpected, we took comfort in the knowledge that we had a set of standards and principles to tackle it, no matter the problem. We know it sounds crazy, but we actually expected to solve virtually any problem. It became kind of a game for us!

The 5 Steps to Problem Solving – Barefoot Style:

1. Take Inventory

If you were shipwrecked on a remote island, the first thing you’d do would be to take inventory of everything you had available. You would begin to think about how you could use all your assets to survive.

Take the same approach to your business problems. Identify all your assets, including the hidden ones. Think about how they could be used to help you overcome the challenges you face.

Your assets are more than your property, money and products. They are also your partners, your customers and your suppliers. You may have a strategic advantage in a seemingly unrelated area. Don’t overlook any hidden assets, including your own knowledge and experience.

2. Get Out of the Box

The quickest way out of the box is straight up! Take the 10,000-foot view. Look beyond your walls, beyond your business, even beyond your industry. Check out the entire landscape.

Who has already overcome a problem like this in another space? How did they do it? What similarities apply to your problem? Are you even defining the problem properly?

We believe one way to the solution is the best definition of the problem, so look at it from every angle. Look for different ways to restate the challenge you are facing.

3. Consider Who Else Will Benefit

If you solve the problem, who else will benefit? And conversely, who is hurt if you don’t solve the problem? By asking these questions you can discover strategic allies. They share an interest in seeing the problem solved. They can help.

For instance, you may have a supplier who benefits by your growth. They may even be amenable to providing additional credit and extended terms to help you overcome a hurdle or grow your business faster, so they can sell you more of their products.

4. Look at Your Other Problems

If you believe, as we do, that the elegant solution solves more than one problem, then reverse the premise and put all your problems out on the table with the one you are trying to solve. By looking at them all at the same time, you may begin to see relationships.

It is in those relationships that the solution often lies. We’ve been amazed how this tactic can turn on the lights with breakthroughs we wouldn’t have considered otherwise!

5. Know the Need

Instead of putting your staff, your suppliers and your associates on a “need-to-know” basis by hiding your problems under the veil of security, practice “know-the-need.”

Involve your stakeholders in the problem-solving process. They have an interest in the solution and will appreciate the respect you demonstrate for their intelligence and creativity when you ask their advice. Wild ideas that come out of a fun brainstorming session often result in problem solving at its finest.

You can’t make all your problems go away, but when you are armed with a process like this, you will relieve some anxiety, sleep more soundly and feel more confident. So bring on the next problem and give this process a try. You may be surprised at the results. If it worked for us, it can work for you!

Michael Houlihan is a serial entrepreneur, industry reformer and successful brand builder. He helps small and medium-size businesses build their brands and achieve profitability. He was the Founder, President, and CEO of Barefoot Cellars. His book, The Barefoot Spirit, spent 8 weeks as a New York Times bestselling business book. He ultimately sold Barefoot Cellars, and consulted with the acquirers to help maintain Barefoot’s entrepreneurial culture. Barefoot is now the world’s #1 wine brand.

Houlihan is a keynote speaker, blogger, guest lecturer and regular contributor to the business media. His straight-talk business articles and interviews appear in, Time, Forbes, and INC.

Michael Houlihan
Founder, President and CEO
Barefoot Cellars