Believe in a Simple Solution

24.10.2017 |

Episode #7 of the course Problem solving by Nat Greene


Intrepid problem solvers,

Yesterday we learned about the pitfalls of relying on experts. Today we will learn about why you, as a problem solver, need to believe in a simple solution.

Often, people mythologize problems: “It’s got a mind of its own,” and “It’s more art than science.” Stuff like that.

People mythologize hard problems in this way because it is comforting. If a problem becomes a supernatural titan, we can convince ourselves that there is something special about it that has kept us from solving it, rather than accepting it is because we lack the proper skills. If it is “more art than science,” then we are no longer responsible for really fixing it to the root cause.

Great problem solvers instead believe in a simple solution to hard problems, and that they can reach the solution with rigorous problem solving. This belief puts responsibility for action front and center with nowhere to hide. It gives them confidence and tenacity to push on.

What do I mean by a simple solution? Once you understand the true root cause—the one or two variables that aren’t operating appropriately in a complex system—you know specifically what is wrong. When you truly know what is wrong, you will be able to implement the simplest possible solution.


What Happens When You Don’t Believe in a Simple Solution?

When you don’t believe in a simple solution to a hard problem, you instead believe in a complex solution. These complex solutions are easy to come by, but they tend to be expensive. Instead of understanding what is causing something to break, you can often just buy a new one. Or maybe you implement a complex “management” fix. These complex solutions, when they have any benefit at all, are fixing the symptoms instead of curing the disease. They are clunky and wasteful at best.


Why People Believe in Complex Solutions

In many organizations, people are so used to a pattern of poor problem solving that they have come to believe that complex problems must have a complex solution. The first time many people are exposed to a simple, elegant solution, they can react badly: they assume that a simple solution means that the problem was simple, and somebody must have been an idiot to allow it to occur or persist. If you want to be a great problem solver, you need to resolve this issue in your mind now.


What Happens When You Believe in a Simple Solution?

Your simple solution, resulting from solving the hard problem correctly, will always give you the most effective outcome, whatever your goal.

If you believe in this simple solution, your behavior is going to change. First, you are going to attack the problem rather than work around it because you can envision a future in which the problem is fully, economically, and simply solved. Second, you are not going to settle for complex solutions. If you believe your shrink-wrapper might be tearing your bags because there is something as simple as a loose bolt that is interfering with its function, you are not going to put up with the expense of replacing the machine with a new one.

Be sure to celebrate simple solutions in your organization when you or other people find them. Celebrate great problem solving rather than hunting for whoever “screwed up.” That will get you started, and repeated success solving problems of increasing difficulty will bring about an ever-deepening belief that a simple solution always exists.

Stay tuned tomorrow for a lesson on how to make only fact-based decisions when problem solving.



Recommended video

Believe in a Simple Solution


Recommended book

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, in which Marie teaches many simple solutions for the clutter in your life.


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