Forgotten Problems

Dear {subscriber_first_name}

Today I’d like to talk to you about the big problems which may have been holding your business back for years.  It is even possible that you have been suffering these problems for so long that you have forgotten you have them! If I reminded you, you might describe these problems as inevitable in your industry, you might say that the technology doesn’t exist to solve them or you might say that it is “impossible” to find a solution. Maybe you would cite the numerous previous attempts to solve these problems without success. Problems of this sort prevent you from radically improving your manufacturing processes, developing new, improved and breakthrough products or realising major cost savings. Problems of this sort can seriously affect customer satisfaction and brand loyalty. Many organisations have long standing, “forgotten” problems which are costing them millions every year. So, how do we find out if we’re suffering from this stubborn type of problem? Here are a few thoughts:

  • When you look at your processes and the quality issues you are actively managing, are there certain operations where you have high levels of inspection or re-work which have been around for so long that they are almost accepted as part of the normal process of manufacture? Where are you biggest manufacturing costs?
  • When you study customer feedback, what is the longest standing complaint you have? Has your company tried to fix this problem before? More than once, perhaps?
  • Do your product development projects repeatedly come up against the same barrier; you try to improve one important customer parameter but another equally important parameter gets worse? For example, you might have tried to make a structural product stronger but you find at the same time it becomes heavier or perhaps you tried to improve a food product’s taste but it became more complex to manufacture.
  • When people describe the problems they are facing, listen for the language used; are they using words like “impossible” or “it can’t be done”? In my role, I’ve been sensitised to this – often the “impossible” problems are the ones which give the biggest impact when they are solved. That’s right, impossible problems can be solved!

Once we have been able to re-remember our problem, we need to solve it once and for all. Without a robust problem solving approach, this can be easier said than done and in my experience there are some key factors which stop us from getting to the strongest solutions:

  • The way we have been looking at the problem may have been the reason the problem has remained unsolved for so long. We can describe this type of thinking as psychological inertia. For example, one explanation of why it took so long after the development of the lens for the telescope to be invented is that it was thought for a long time that putting two lenses together would simply create a more distorted image than one.  
  • We haven’t developed a clear view about what an ideal solution to our problem might be and because we have no view on this ideal outcome, we have little idea about which solution direction will be the strongest.
  • We have failed to recognise the basic tension in our problem situation which causes us to trade off one parameter against another and so we don’t even allow ourselves to attempt to break the trade off.
  • We fail to connect to other industry areas or research activities which may already have developed a solution to our problem. For example, would you have believed that Astrophysics might provide a technology which can help with the early detection of breast cancer?

If you have “forgotten” problems and you think they could be holding your business back, click here to find out about the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ is the Russian acronym) or contact us to find out more