What are some of the most important things in a business – any business? It’s a big question, so big that it’s almost impossible to answer. While it’s important to have key elements like a compelling vision, a high demand product, a tight team, an optimized online and/or offline business infrastructure, and so on, no list is complete. In fact, the more you think about it, the larger the list will grow.

A better approach to answering this question would be to think of ideas that would work for any business—ideas that would make a huge difference if you applied them and that would cause serious difficulties if you omitted them.

With that in mind, here are six things essential for any small, medium, or large business:

  1. Get good at solving complicated problems.

The ability to solve the problems that can plague all sorts of business, regardless of the industry or size is indispensable. Every ship of enterprise at one time or another runs into unexpected icebergs. Those that survive have to resort to extremely creative measures to stay in business.

However, some problems are so dumbfounding that it seems almost impossible to solve them. For instance, Engineer Claude Shannon solved the problem of how electronic information could be quantified and sent from one place to another by inventing the idea of the bit, which then made it possible to compress messages between any two points with absolute accuracy.

So how do you get good at solving difficult problems? The best way is to use a proven methodology like lean six sigma which uses the DMAIC problem solving method to solve any project-related problems, including how to make quality improvements. DMAIC is an acronym for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control — the five steps necessary to solve any sticky problem.

  1. A clear and comprehensive idea of the target customer.

The better a business knows its customers, the more successful it is likely to be. Conversely, the less it understands its customers, the more generic its product and the more generalized its marketing. Moreover, if you don’t know your customer well, it’s difficult to generate customer satisfaction. Apple is an example of a business that understands its customers. It’s highly successful because it targets its products to electronic consumers that love aesthetic, cutting-edge, easy-to-use, highly-functional devices.

  1. Create systems based on best practices.

Many activities in a business are repetitive. By first identifying all these activities and then optimizing all business processes, it will be much easier to run the business efficiently. On a campaign, the Roman army would set up base camp in exactly the same way. This allowed them to set up camp quickly and set up the most secure camps possible. Since everyone knew exactly where to pitch their tent, how to set it up in the fastest way, where the general slept, and where the night guards stood, it became almost impossible for enemies to take them by surprise in the middle of the night.

  1. Keep track of everything.

A business is called an organization for a good reason. The more organized a business, the more able it is to access the resources it needs to run smoothly. Mismanaged schedules, inaccurate books, and lost files will quickly create company chaos. The more meticulous a business is with its record-keeping, the more effective it will be in executing its goals and recovering from its unexpected setbacks.

  1. Differentiate your business from your competitors.

Unless you have a value proposition that stands out, there is no real reason why someone should buy from your business. Since Walmart sells a wide-range of goods, they can’t differentiate themselves from the competition based on quality of products. However, Sam Walton fine tuned his supply chain management system to such an extent that he could offer the lowest prices. So, if you wanted, say, a kitchen drawer organizer, where would you go? Most likely, to a store that sold it at the cheapest price because it’s hard to find qualitative difference between common household products.

  1. Focus on innovation.

The only way to make sure your product is in high demand is to continually improve it. The way you can do this is to set aside part of your budget for R&D to stay on top of innovation.

It’s not easy to create a great business, but armed with these ideas you’ll have a much better chance of prospering and will probably have an unfair advantage over your competition.