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Why Is Problem Solving In Business Important?

Business leaders need to be armed with a diverse set of skills—we asked an expert about the value of problem solving in business


Thu Mar 28 2024

Whether you want to be a financial manager, consultant, or business analyst, problem solving will be an invaluable skill. 

Problem solving in business lays the groundwork for innovation, creativity, and data-driven decision making. Harnessing this skill will be crucial to moving up through the corporate ranks, helping you to stand out from the crowd in a competitive market. 

We caught up with a management expert from Old Dominion University (ODU) to ask: Why is problem solving in business important?

Problem solving allows you to navigate an unknown future 

There’s one thing for certain: the future of the business world is unknown.

The only way to navigate what you can’t foresee is to gain the tools and knowledge necessary to tackle arising problems.

Jay O’Toole is an assistant professor in the Management Department at ODU’s Strome College of Business.

“Problem solving is the core function of an executive—the decision makers who think deeply about the direction of a firm and how to achieve their vision and goals,” he says. 

Having a 360-degree view of all business angles will be increasingly important as the business world undergoes digital transformation, with disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) creating both solutions and problems for business leaders. 

“If problem solving is only thought of as identifying the solution, then you’ve started out on the wrong foot,” says Jay. “Problem solving is fundamentally about figuring out something where there is no known solution.”

Problem solving helps you build the right mindset

Being a strong problem solver means that you’ve developed a mindset that can help you go far in business.

The ODU MBA program is invested in the business of problem solving, which Jay explains as being able to apply a variety of different lenses and frameworks to the unknown future. 

MBA students are taught analytic frameworks to address given problems and study theories such as Carol Dweck’s growth mindset. 

“It isn’t just about understanding and applying analytic frameworks—it’s also about establishing a problem-solving culture,” he says.

Since problem solving is integrated across the ODU MBA, students are encouraged to see the connections between problem solving techniques and different topics.

Students can choose to concentrate their MBA in areas such as Business Analytics, Supply Chain Management, and Maritime and Ports Management, experiencing how problem solving relates to their specializations. 

“We teach students how obstacles can be seen as opportunities,” says Jay.

Creativity and innovation links to problem solving in business

Without problem solving in business, creativity and innovation can be stifled. 

“It was once thought that innovation was a subset of management, but innovation is a mainstay for all businesses,” he says.

The ODU MBA program deploys business simulations and the Harvard case method to help students engage with real-world techniques that innovative firms use in problem solving today. 

Previous projects have involved students helping the Virginia Opera House identify ways to grow its membership.

The Strome College of Business hosted an Artist-in-Residence to help students interact with divergent thinking. The Artist-in-Residence introduced ideas on creative problem-solving techniques and infused more creativity into the curriculum, to change the way students think about the world, explains Jay.

In the future, this could change to an Engineer in Residence program, based on the changing priorities of the business school and wider industry, he adds.

Problem solving in business is important for accessing the C-suite

If you’re considering an MBA program, it’s likely that you have your sights set on the C-suite.

Developing a strong understanding of problem solving in business is key to reaching this level and helping you to stand apart from middle managers, says Jay.

In fact, social skills—including self-awareness, the ability to listen and communicate, and work with different groups—are among some of the most in-demand skills for those in the C-suite, according to a Harvard Business Review study.

These three qualities are important for effective problem solving in business.

“We want our graduates to not only be leaders in the business world but leaders in society. Problem solving in business becomes real change in the world,” he says. 

The ODU MBA guides students to interact with policymaking to enact real change, since graduates may sit on boards of companies or nonprofits.

Drawing on ODU’s location in the Hampton Roads region of Coastal Virginia, MBA students will engage with pressing environmental challenges such as rising sea levels and flooding. 

“Through a strategic mindset of problem solving, we want our graduates to be prepared to address major problems that have a real impact on the world,” he concludes. 

Student Reviews

Old Dominion University





Unlimited opportunities for growth

My view of ODU is nothing short of amazing. I started attending ODU at in 2020 at the beginning of COVID-19 so most of my journey has been virtual but despite being in a virtual environment the faculty and staff have made me feel at home. The campus has endless opportunities for growth and academic assistance as well as hiring events for students looking to connect with jobs in their field. The campus is bright and lively but still has academia at the center of it. Its not too much of a party campus but there are opportunities for safe wholesome fun. All of my professors and advisors have been ready and willing to help with every issue, question, or concern.




On Campus

The perspective of ODU from a Freshman

Old Dominion University is a diverse university that has a variety of clubs, sports, Greek activities, and more on campus. They have plenty of food options ranging from Italian to Vegan. Everyone is welcoming and supportive on campus, and there is plenty of support for all Old Dominion University students. I personally dislike the placement of my dorm complex due to the not-so-friendly neighborhood nearby, but it is only a 10-minute walk to all my classes. If I could change one thing about Old Dominion University, then it would be to include a small dining hall for each dorm complex opened after hours of the main dining hall on Campus.




On Campus

Positivity Life changing

The diversity is key and this university demonstrates this. From the admissions, to the professors to the all shows a level of diverse rhythm and harmony that brings others together to learn in an environment that is enriching





A program with a lot of patience

I attended this university starting in 2014 and took many breaks in between for many reasons. I struggled with a lot personally on and off every semester, but I was still able to come back and finish with a decent GPA, which was fantastic. My biggest issue with the college I was a part of at ODU was that I had little to no help finding an internship, which was part of my reason for finishing later than I started. I also wish that they had made their health services more readily available to students no matter what year they were attending for.




On Campus


I like the relationship with my professors, they really made sure that I fully understood what was going on. I think the campus could have been a little bit safer, they seemed to be a little bit of security issues.




On Campus

ODU_ FreshmanYear

I really like how there are many options if it goes wrong or if you’re falling behind in your courses, there are many resources to help you. However, I don’t like how the professors don’t care too much to help you. College is really about being on your own and the transition from high school to college was definitely different yet effective.