The Power of Mastering Understanding in Business

Its more than comprehension step

Ahmed Bousuwa
5 min readFeb 7, 2024

Knowing about a challenge doesn’t mean you can solve it, but understanding it enables you to do so. Understanding is an articulated act.

A response to the needs of your fellow humans is a sign of understanding.

Humans can come across as complex beings. And it’s challenging to comprehend their needs or desires.

Sometimes, you can’t even understand your own wants, you fail to fulfill your desires in life.

Making an effort is a path to understanding others. A proof of understanding is accommodating people’s needs or wants accordingly.

Did you know that:

When borders were drawn in some parts of the world, the neglect of understanding cultures led to ongoing conflicts between neighboring countries.

It takes time and effort to understand, and the same applies in business.

There are two types of understanding:

  • Understanding, in the context of comprehension, tying to the social setting. understanding what people are saying.
  • Understanding, as an exercise, tying to the business setting. understanding what we are solving.

First, you need to stop blaming people for ineffective communication. It’s your role to make an effort when required to solve their problems.

Meeting your customer’s, people’s, or company’s needs requires a great level of understanding.

Understanding is often mishandled in business

It’s a neglected step. And dealt with in a social setting involving listening and asking questions only.

Creating business cases based on a surface-level understanding and the obtained answers only. No one has reached great heights by doing surface-level work.

Project that involves marketing, targeting, problem-solving, transformation, customer engagement, or improving internal capability will fail because there weren’t proper understanding procedures.

This is the reason issues appears within project life cycle or post-delivery. And that will create chaos, misalignment, and waste resources.

There could be many causes leading to failure, but mishandling the understanding step is one of the key factors.

The first steps are foundational for moving in the right direction.

There is a difference between minor issues and key issues that arise post-delivery. I understand that individuals and companies fail, and this is how we learn.

But, mishandling a step shouldn’t be the reason. Companies should cut or drop as much as possible the cost of failure.

It’s achievable by adopting an approach-based (design in business).

In business, the understanding phase is an exercise

Comprising research, discovery, and investigation. It requires effort to build a holistic view and reach the intended goal.

Understanding is an integral part of the design process.

The entire future state relies on research and discovery (understanding).

With a proper and deep dive, you achieve clarity on the challenge you are trying to solve.

Clarity enables you to make decisions on how to move forward with your challenge.

Moving forward means you know :

  • where the impacts are, what areas you have to solve, how to rank your priorities, and how to go about it.

The understanding phase is the tipping point to reach your goal.

Understanding involves putting pieces of the puzzle together. No one will do it for you; you have to make an effort with an approach-based strategy.

When done well, you can:

  • Solve your problems,
  • Get the right solutions,
  • Meet customer needs,
  • Innovate with products, services, or technology,
  • Achieve business goals and strategies,
  • Improve internal capabilities.

What you can achieve with applying understanding as an exercise

In the 1990s, the skincare product Oil of Olay became known as a brand for ‘older’ women. The company (P&G) lost other age groups due to this wrong perception. They had three choices:

  1. Scrap Oil of Olay and launch a new brand.
  2. Buy out a competitor.
  3. Innovate and reinvent the Oil of Olay brand.

The company chose to reinvent and innovate the Oil of Olay brand. Considering it the best strategic choice due to consumer awareness of the brand.

The team began by understanding their customers’ needs. Used design thinking approach. Instead of relying on surface-level understanding, or historical data, they made an effort to understand their customers.

Here are the findings and insights they uncovered:

  • The conventional wisdom was that the most attractive consumer segment was women aged fifty-plus. But, they found real growth with consumers who were thirty-five-plus. They learned that these consumers were still using hand and body lotions on their faces.
  • In their mid-thirties, women tend to become more committed to skincare and are willing to invest in quality products. They also unraveled other needs such as dry skin, age spots, uneven skin tones, and the appearance of the skin.

P&G rebranded to Olay and broadened the value proposition. It offered a product that meets the needs of women in their mid-thirties. Changed the perception of the Olay brand.

Olay experienced double-digit sales growth with high profit margins. Created a loyal, growing consumer base.

Diving deep involves a series of questioning, researching, discovering, and examining.

If you have a problem or are starting a new project, you should spend 70% of your time understanding it and 30% on the solution.

Here is how you should start

First, talk to affected or target users through interviews or by facilitating a discovery workshop.

In these interactions, ask questions about their needs, challenges, struggles, experiences, feelings, or jobs to-be-done.

Use toolkits like journey maps, service blueprints, and user diagrams. These tools will help you understand the picture.

Document all captured data, consume it, digest it, and make sense of it. Perform affinity diagramming and analyze it. Then, map your data and surface insights.

Reflect on your understanding, triggering questions to uncover other blind spots. Get answers to your questions.

By now, you should have built a full comprehension of pain points, needs, desires, and barriers. You’ve learned what is holding your audience back, and now you know how to move forward.

The outcome will serve as a reference for reaching your desired future state

To meet your business and customer needs and achieve goals, you have to understand them well. To gain understanding, you need to exercise it by adopting an approach-based effort.

A proper understanding is not tied to business only; you need to understand the ongoing changes.

You need to comprehend changing skills, markets, the world, governance, etc., so you know how to adapt and prepare.

Thanks for reading.

Tell me about a time what happened when you didn’t practise enough understanding.



Ahmed Bousuwa

Design Strategist. Help companies & ventures with complex challenges. Setting direction for strategic initiatives & desired goals.