Gutenblog: Solutions

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21
September 2010
September 2010
Broken Cup Makes Wind Chimes
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We all know the old phrase "two wrongs don't make a right" and in a moral sense this is true. But in a broader problem solving sense that's not always the case. Sometimes two problems can compliment one another and one problem can become a great solution for the other.

I ride my bicycle to and from work every day. Part of my commute is along the Iron Horse and the Canal Trails which run along public land that has been protected from residential development because it hosts power lines and drainage canals. So these right of ways conveniently cut right through town.

I'm sure many people are unhappy to have the power lines cutting through their back yard, and plenty of developers lust after all that prime property that could be turned into generic tracks of housing. For many this probably represents a problem in the community.

But in a totally unrelated situation, there are a lot of citizens that bicycle around town for necessity and pleasure. The roads, where they are legally required to ride, are not safe, and so it's really quite difficult for the average person to choose bicycling as a primary means of transportation. What bicyclists need is a safe place to ride, but the city is unmotivated to grant bicycles that space on the main roads. This is the second problem.

As I was riding along the Trails I realized, that the first problem had become a solution for the second problem. The city had all this land that couldn't be developed because of the presence of utilities. But 95% of the land wasn't being used to its full potential. It became the perfect place for a pedestrian and bicycle path through town. It provides a safe space to travel, it gets bikes off the main roads in that part of town, and it utilizes the land for the good of the community.

This concept is really important for business. It's worthwhile to look at the problems you face every day and see if any of these problems may actually be a solution for another problem you have. This way of thinking can apply in so many different ways, so be flexible.

Let me know about any interesting problems you solve in this way.

 


20
September 2010
September 2010
Rethink Outside the Box
By

I'm working on a "top-secret", personal, side project which we hope to launch in a few months. The project is called "Comrade Share", and through our service we will provide new solutions to several common entrenched problems. In the process, I've come to some interesting conclusions about finding solutions to common problems. This isn't a roadmap to solving all problems, but it is one great way to rethink outside the box. And if the problem is big enough, your solution can change the world. Four simple steps can help us think through the process:

  1. Identify the Constants
  2. Identify Current Solutions
  3. Reevaluate the Constants
  4. Find New Solutions for Deprecated Constants

Identify the Constants

First figure out what the constants are in the equation. What are the limitations and obstacles that make this a problem in the first place? What are the constants that all previous solutions have tried to work around?

Example

So pick a problem you often face. For the sake of this exercise let's look at the problem of traffic. Obviously this is just an example, and we aren't going to solve the problem today, but you'll get the point. The constants may be something like:

  • Physical Presence: I need to travel from point A to point B.
  • Time: I need to get to work at 8:00 am.
  • Volume: The Roads are limited in size.
  • Capacity: There are too many cars on the road.

Identify Current Solutions

Before you attempt to solve a problem, it's important to understand what solutions currently exist. This helps you understand where everyone has devoted their energy in the past, which can help you find constants that have been neglected in the past because they were considered unsolvable at the time (but maybe they aren't unsolvable today).

Example

People have tried to solve the traffic problem in several ways:

  • Physical Presence: telecommute when you can.
  • Time: increase tolls during peak hours; encourage people to work flexible hours.
  • Volume: build bigger roads.
  • Capacity: encourage commuting and car sharing via carpool lanes.

Reevaluate the Constants

After you know what the constants are, think about them a little bit and consider whether or not these constants are really constant anymore. Are they really immovable obstacles? Or has some new technology or reality shift made them irrelevant or at the very least partially moveable. Even a 3% improvement can introduce a lot of benefits in the long run.

The biggest problems we face on a daily basis are often so entrenched in our psyche that we fail to stop and ask if all the constants are still constants. We fail to see that the ground may have shifted under our feet and one of those constants is just waiting for a simple solution. If you can find a solution from a new angle, there is a lot of opportunity for improvement, which means you have a new business opportunity for a unique product or solution.

Example

If we look at the traffic as a private citizen you may realize that your work now allows telecommuting 3 days a week. Poof, one of your constants has disappeared, you no longer have to get from point A to point B. Or you may realize that there is a side street that circumvents the worst traffic points, so you've found a solution to the problem of too many cars on the road.

As a business person, you may look at one of those constants and realize that you can combine 3-4 existing technologies to solve the problem in a new way. You may be the first person to realize that the standard barriers are no longer in our way. Maybe you take Google's traffic data and make an app to do live alternative rerouting suggestions for "Quickest Route", in conjunction with a some form of carpool social networking that addresses the capacity constant. With the invention of new technologies and new social networking trends some of the barriers of coordination are torn down and opportunities arise.

Find New Solutions for Deprecated Constants

After you find a constant that is no longer immovable, you can engineer a new solution. It may not be easy, there may still be a lot of obstacles, but you may be able to make a considerable difference in the problem.

 

In the case of my side project, the subtle shift in current technologies has opened up a huge opportunity for solving a very pesky problem. A few years ago our solution would have been impractical because few people had mobile devices and so a mobile app wouldn't appeal to anyone. But today there are enough mobile users that it creates a large enough core community to make a social network work, and the idea can now blossom. So keep evaluating old problems and you may stumble upon something new.