Friday, 2 September 2011

Jumping to Solutions

What do you think is the biggest challenge in an Ideation exercise?

Why do you think, most of the solutions fail?

Why does even research does not bring out all the issues?

How can you hold a brainstorming session to build a solution more fruitful and effective?

As we deal with these barriers and many more, we realize that there is a key to at least put ourselves on the right track. The key is obviously driven by the capability of the people working on the problem. But, as long as a conscious effort is made to remember the key, we would not lose our focus.

And, no we are not going to suggest that building a clear objective is the key. Although, we do not deny the importance of building a clear objective, but we are going to delve one level deeper. And we are going to explain it with the help of some examples.

So, what is this key? The key is to understand the underlying systems, components, players and influencers before jumping on to solutions. In other words, it is necessary to first understand what the problem is. 

Right Approach
Wrong Approach

Now, let’s go through some examples:

Example 1:
One of the big problems in South Africa that people were trying to tackle was human-elephant conflict. Elephants used to encroach on farmland and destroy livelihoods. In response, some farmers resorted to poisoning or shooting elephants.
Environment conservationists jumped to solutions for solving this problem. All kinds of modern technology solutions were proposed, and many trialled: Electric fences, RFID tagging, sensors and live-GSM-tracking among them. Most of the solutions failed since they were not replicable, scalable, and/or affordable.

Solution: Elephants run away when they encounter bees. According to this BBC article, early research in Kenya indicates hives can be a very effective barrier, so much so that 97% of attempted elephant raids were aborted. Where satellites, RFID tags and mobile phones failed, humble honey bees proved to be the answer. 

Also note how honey bees also proved to be an alternate source of income! 

Example 2:
Wimbledon had an interesting battle on and off the courts: against the pigeons. Each summer, as tennis players battle it out on the lawn courts, the authorities used to battle and stop pigeons from interfering with the play. Authorities armored themselves with all sorts of modern technology that was available: lasers and radio controlled aircraft to gas guns and ultrasound emitters. Now, we can understand what the courts would have looked like with all equipments, like a battleground?

Solution: Now, if we look from a pigeon’s perspective, all these high tech equipment might be dangerous, but nothing is a match to a bird of prey! Hence, Wimbledon’s answer doesn’t involve anything more high-tech than a bird of prey! A few laps by Rufus, the hawk, around the tennis courts are enough to scare the hardiest of pigeons away! (Source:

In India, we solve a similar problem of monkeys using langurs to scare them off!  

Example 3:
One very big cosmetics company in Japan received a complaint that a consumer had bought a soap box that was empty. Management of the company immediately traced the problem to the assembly line that conveyed all the packaged boxes of soap to the delivery department. For some reason, one soap box went through the assembly line empty. 

Management asked its engineers to solve the problem. The engineers worked hard on the first solution that came to mind, using X-ray technology. They devised an X-ray machine with high-resolution monitors. Two workers were deployed full-time to monitor all the soap boxes that passed through the line to make sure they were not empty. They managed to solve the problem but it was an expensive solution.

Solution: The solution was taken to the assembly line and the installation was started. Out of curiosity, one of the workers asked about the installation. On hearing the whole story, he told his engineering manager that the solution was much easier – install a fan- it will blow away all the empty boxes and the assembly line will deliver only full, heavier packages!

Conclusion: As our world is becoming more complex, our problems are becoming even worse! We have numerous methodologies to solve these complex problems, but we observe, increasingly that these solutions are not s effective or efficient as we would have liked them to be! The reason, which we also call the “key”, to get our final solution right to a greater extent is not to jump onto solutions. Some of the examples here might help us in realizing our shortcomings, hence, improving our methodologies and thinking!


Anonymous said...
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Your article was very helpful. I'm really grateful.