This column has addressed plenty of business ideas over the years, from how to think about financial statements to recruiting and mentoring. Today’s installment goes into a broader (but nonetheless critical) skillset: solving problems.

Business abounds with problems. A major project goes sideways, pushing up the resources and manpower needed to succeed. Maybe a pandemic hits, driving up the risks and costs of fielding crews. In interviews over the years, I have found a person’s ability to solve problems to be a key indicator of success (however they define it).

What is Your Problem?

Accurately identify the problem before solving it. This first step causes frequent stumbles for people, whether on the jobsite or back at the office. They refuse to identify a problem, or identify the wrong problem. People see problems through the lens of the skills and tools available. Learn to recognize quickly when an issue falls outside of the available skills and tools, then act accordingly.

Education and training help ease this step. The more time spent training and doing, whether it’s a tough well or forecasting revenue for the first quarter, the more readily you’ll advance through these steps. You will also more quickly recognize if you need help.

What is Your Plan?

Large, difficult problems require more planning. After naming your problem, attach some action. What is my next most-important step? And, after that? You don’t have to write down your plan, as long as you and the people executing with you know it. If there’s any doubt, write it out. Write it on a napkin or stickie note, or in an email. Write it in the dusty back window of a pickup truck. Communicate the plan clearly to those involved.

How is Your Execution?

Many people don’t make it to this step. If they do, accident or incident pushed them to action. Successful people act on plans, but can suffer from the misconception they have it easy. I’ve met one or two people who chanced on success. The majority of successful people I’ve met, however, just learned to solve progressively harder problems. That isn’t easy, even if they make it look effortless. It takes a quick assessment of the tools, skills and facts on hand, and a quick reassessment if those inputs change.

How is Your Reflection?

When you survive the execution, circle back. You identified the problem. What about the cause? That’s the big, problem-solving ninja move. Each time you encounter a problem, don’t just fix it. Fixed what caused it.

Walk through an example with me. Let’s say I look at my business’s bank account and see cobwebs. Problem! I identify the problem as a drop in revenue. I handle the books and fell behind on invoicing. I make a plan to catch up on the oldest invoice numbers first and triage the rest until I catch up.

Problem solved, right?

Not really. I find accounting dull as a stick, so I could easily recreate the problem next month. True problem-solvers take the final step: Solve the cause. In this case, I might hire bookkeeping help so I focus more on the work bringing in the money than the dull details of how the money actually gets in the bank account.

Solve the problem, then the cause. Then find a bigger problem.

What do you think? What parts of being a drilling contractor present the toughest problems for you? Have you developed systems to solve those problems so you can move on to bigger, better problems? Let me know. Send an email to

Stay safe out there, drillers.

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