Aug 28

Wow that’s a great solution, but what is the problem?

How you define the problem can have a major impact on the solution.  Too often an elegant or clever solution is developed without sufficient analysis of the problem and the underlying causes.

Engineers are renowned for wanting clarity.  “Tell us what the problem is and then we will devise a solution”.  What appears to be the problem may be a symptom of a deeper and more pervasive problem.

The solution may also have little to do with the problem no longer existing.  Several factors may be at play.   A good example of this is the dramatic fall in crime in New York City in the 1990’s, which Malcolm Gladwell discusses in “The Tipping Point”.

So take time to probe. The Mindshop tool "the Five Why's" can be an effective way to do this.  By repeating the question "why" you can peel away at the layers of symptoms that are hiding the root cause of the problem.  You may need to ask more than five questions before you get to the root cause of the problem.

Once you think you have got to the underlying problem, check this with other people including those who are not too close to the problem.  You are then in a far better position to start working on possible solutions.  This is where creativity can play an important role, but that will be the topic of another post.

Don't be distracted by myths. The Million Dollar Space Pen Myth is, according to Dwayne A. Day, just that, a myth. The pens never cost a lot of money and the resource-strapped Russians were not smarter.  The multi-billion dollar space pen and the Russian pencil is folklore, no matter how appealing the story may sound.  As the saying goes "never let the facts get in the way of a good story".

So put far more effort into probing until you are confident you have identified the underlying problem. Then check and double-check before you start to consider possible solutions.

Simon Fawkes
Business to Markets Ltd