Reframing Problems Permits Creative Solutions

There will be some driverless vehicles on Toronto roads soon. How does that solve the commuting problem?

Some problems define the possible answer set. 

Congestion on the roads, public transit fails because of rigid schedules and inconvenient access to points outside the city core.

If I am forced to drive because public transit doesn’t go where I am going in a timely and convenient way, I notice commuting is a huge waste of time and a source of frustration with my fellow earthlings with whom I must share the road.

My problem is the time and frustration of commuting and it seems to be solvable by bigger, or more highways.

Define an alternative problem given the same parameters

Suppose the problem is driving is  a waste of time and it is stressful. I want those parameters to go away.

Answer: autonomous vehicles. Now I can use the time in transit productively and I really don’t care that the road is covered by less than adequate drivers. No more being cutoff, or needlessly slowed because some cannot drive around a curve on the highway without slowing by 40%.

Driverless vehicles will make commuting a useful time. Sleep, work, relax, talk on the phone, watch a movie or training video.

Same problem structure but a different approach leaves the parameters unchanged, but removes the effects of the problem. For any problem, that is all anyone needs.

Some problems go away when the optics change

Presentation matters. Five decades ago, computers were beginning to find their way into engineering. Most of them could deliver an answer to a complicated computational problem in a few seconds. Engineers never believed the answer because it would have taken them half a day to get it using the old ways. The engineers found it threatening.

Solution: Build a time lag into the delivery of the answer. The computer’s approach became, receive problem, compute answer in ten seconds, wait five minutes, print answer. No more stress. The lag would be gradually reduced until it was printing as soon as the answer was known. The ten second answer became acceptable and now we find that is much too long. The instant answer is now the standard.

Some methods are too complex or rigid to allow creativity or even common sense.

There is  tendency to over design solutions and create rules and manuals that aim to cover everything. That never happens. When common sense is removed from the manual, problems like United Airlines customer relations fiascoes (notice the plural) are nearly mandatory.

There must always be a way for employees to apply judgement. If you cannot trust them to use judgement in matters like customer relations, you have not set standards and priorities, or have trained them poorly, or you should never have hired them. Hire good people and trust them. If you cannot do that, you cannot succeed.

Teach people to diagnose the heart of the problem.

A visible future problem is the care and storage of senior citizens.

Should we build more facilities or should we provide ways for them to stay where they are, or with family or friends, or some sort of cooperative living facility? Maybe like a student residence at a university. In some places, the facilities exist and are shared space with real university students.

Reframing problems allows new answers to appear.

Spend some to time to understand what the problem means. Do not become confined by the definition box. Thinking outside the box is an old approach.

The new approach is, “There is no box.”

Don Shaughnessy arranges life insurance for people who understand the value of a life insured estate. He can be reached at The Protectors Group, a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency in Peterborough, Ontario.  In previous careers, he has been a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business.

Please be in touch if I can help you.  866-285-7772

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