I work for a technology company and have for the last 15 or so years. Over time, things get more complicated and often our thinking falls prey to the complications around us. In this, my first blog, I thought I would share some thoughts on keeping it simple, real and always having a couple of options when trying to solve problems.
NASA began with the project of getting man on the moon. They discovered that ball point pens did not work in the absence of gravity (or gravity zero). This was because the ink would not make it to the desired surface.
Solution A). Solving this problem took NASA six years and $12 Million dollars. They developed a ball point pen that could work at: zero gravity, upside down, under water and practically in any surface (glass included). It could also work in temperatures ranging from below the ink’s freezing point up to 300 degrees centigrade.
Solution B). What did the Russians do? They used a pencil.
One of the most famous case studies in Japanese management was the case of the empty soap box. This happened in one of the largest Japanese cosmetics Keiretsus. The company received a complaint from a customer who bought a box of soap and the box was empty. Immediately, the problem was isolated to the segment a segment of the assembly line that took the boxed soap to the loading docks.
Of course, upper management requested the engineers to quickly find a solution to the problem:
Solution A) Immediately, the engineering team started brainstorming on an X-Ray machine with high resolution monitors. These would be managed by two people (so that there would be further redundancy).
Solution B) A common employee in a small company was posed with the same problem. He didn’t complicate his (and other people’s lives) with robots, X-Rays, monitors or increased labor costs.
Instead, he bought a strong industrial fan. The purpose of the fan was to blow any empty box off the assembly line just before the boxes would be loaded to the trucks. He turned on the fan and saw with glee that EVERY empty box was removed ensuring that the problem didn’t recur.
A hotel magnate once traveled to a city in India for the second time. It had been a year since his last trip to India. When he arrived at the counter of a very modest hotel (much inferior to his own hotels), the front desk clerk smiled and says: “Welcome again, sir. Thank you for coming back to visit our property.”
This surprised our magnate. While he was a very important person, he much prefers anonymity. That said, he didn’t think the clerk would have such good memory to remember his prior visit a year ago.
Immediately, he wanted to install the same system in his hotel chain. This simple gesture would make every guest feel very good about their stay. Upon his return, he deployed employees to go work on this.
The large chain opted to find the best software with facial recognition, special cameras and response times measured in micro-seconds. This also required additional training for 40,000 employees, etc. Approximate cost $5.0 million.
Our friend the magnate opted for returning to this property and see if a chat with our front desk clerk would reveal the technology this property uses. Our friend the clerk candidly admitted that he had an arrangement with the taxi drivers.
The taxi drivers are supposed to ask if the passenger had stayed in the property before. Whenever the passenger is a returning visitor, the taxi driver would nod as the guest’s bags are carried to the front desk. In exchange, the taxi driver gets $1.00.
Moral: Don’t complicate your job. Conceive the simplest solution to the problem. Learn to focus on solutions and not on problems.