How the CEO of Zappos Solves Problems

light bulb idea

Your worst problem is believing you know the problem, when you don’t. The next is solving it.

Procter & Gamble set out to design new soap for cleaning floors. It’s a challenge because strong soap cleans dirt but it also strips finishes and irritates skin.

After years of failed attempts, P&G came up with the Swiffer – paper towel on a stick. Mopping was the problem, not soap*.

One word:

The CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, finds the “right” problem with one word, “Why.”

“The one thing that Tony is really good at, that I’ve learned, is to always ask why. … If you ask why enough, you can turn, even the most complex problem into its simplest form.” Jamie Naughton

Problems first:

Use curiosity to explore problems before seeking answers.

Simplify before solving.

Rush to problems; don’t rush to solutions. Answers become complications when they solve “wrong” problems.

Simplify complexity by asking why.

  1. Why are we doing this?
  2. Why do we need to do this?
  3. Why do we keep things in place if they aren’t working?
  4. Why is this a problem?
  5. Why do we care?

“It might be ten why’s, it might be three whys, and then you can say, “Ok. Let’s fix that.” Jamie Naughton

Simple problems have simple answers.


Speed problem simplifying – Slow solution finding.

Go slow to go fast.

Solving the wrong problem slows or stalls progress.


Problem: I’m stressed.

Fast solution: Massage.

Explore the problem:

I’m stressed. Why? I have too much to do. Why? Because I can’t say, “No.” Why can’t you say, “no?” And so on…

What if stress isn’t the problem? Fix the simplest problem. Then get a massage just for fun.

How can leaders slow the solution finding process in order to find real problems?

How do you find solutions?


*(There’s debate concerning the origin of the Swiffer. Regardless, P&G found the “right” answer when they identified the “right” problem.)

Connect with Jamie:

Jamie Naughton works directly with Tony Hsieh as the Speaker of the House for Zappos.


Twitter: @Jamstar

In her own words (1 min.)

Related: The Surprising Path to Happiness at Work

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