What problem are you trying to solve?


Recently, a colleague sent me a cartoon showing three scenes: 1) what we dream of – this scene showed a rocket ship with a titanium-plated nose cone, long-range supersonic antenna, custom artwork, one-way viewport mirror, etc. – it was a very elaborate product, 2) what we settle for at launch – this scene showed a smaller rocket ship with plain antenna, plain nose cone, simple finishes, etc. – a very simple version of the rocket, and 3) what the user needs – a simple bike with small ramp. The point was that we often dream of a finished product that embodies all of the bells and whistles we can imagine, but settle for less – and even that doesn’t really meet the ultimate requirement.

That also reminds me of the question, “What problem are we trying to solve?” This is a great question to ask at the start of a meeting, when putting together a presentation, when forming a team, when beginning an initiative, when creating a process, or when resolving a conflict.  By pausing at the beginning to simply ask, “What do we want to solve?”, we might avoid significant time, expense, and complexity that, in the end, is not needed or even not wanted.

Perhaps you have heard someone mention “Rube Goldberg” or say “that is a Rube Goldberg approach” when speaking of a process or system. Rube Goldberg was a real person (a cartoonist) that created overly complex, over-engineered systems to solve simple problems.  You might also remember the game “Mousetrap” whereby a very complex arrangements of pulleys, levers, and devices used to simply lower a cage over a trapped mouse.  We do similar things in our lives.  In our work processes, we often create a form to request a form.  Or, we design a process with 8 steps that could just as easily be done with 3 steps.  At home, we often concoct an elaborate series of steps and activities simply to get dinner on the table on time.

Before we set about developing the steps needed or the process to be used, it is always a good first step to ask, “What problem are we trying to solve?” Then, “What is the most simple way to solve that particular problem?”  By pausing long enough to clearly articulate the problem and confine our solution to that one problem, we can avoid the over-design or over-engineering that made Rube Goldberg famous.  Give it a try!

Thanks to my colleague for sharing the cartoon! And, let’s all have a well-planned, but spontaneously happy day!  Remember, you never know when you might just have a “top ten” day!

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