1. Decisions, decisions…
By Paul Reali


This morning, my younger daughter was having a clothing crisis. “The problem,” she said, “is that both of these leggings look good with this outfit.” I decided, as parents are wont to do, that this was a teachable moment.

"If you have two good choices," I said, "that’s not a problem. If neither pair looks good, that might be a problem. If your leggings are dirty, or torn, or don’t fit, or don’t exist, that’s a problem. If you have two good choices, though, that’s not a problem. That’s a decision."

She’s seven, so it’s hard to say whether she understood the lesson. I figure that at the very least, she’ll change the way she talks about this kind of dilemma: she’ll say she’s having trouble making a decision, not that she has a problem.

But I learned something from this exchange, too. I realized that she did have a problem:  she was trying to make the right decision, and she didn’t know how to go about it. The leggings were not the problem; making the decision was. It was obvious to her that one of the options must be more right than the other. I know that when one has two equally good options (with zero cost for being wrong), one can just flip a coin…but she didn’t see it that way. In her eyes, there was, in fact, a right answer.

We are conditioned this way, to find the right answer, the best answer. When we make decisions at work and in the larger parts of life, in most cases, one option almost certainly will turn out better than the other, and it is important that we make a good decision. After all, that’s what they pay us for, more or less: to solve hard problems and make difficult decisions.

And so, what we do is gather as much data as we can, set criteria, evaluate, project forward, etc., and then decide. We do this with a kind of eternal uncertainty. If we choose A over B, we might never really know if we made the better choice. If A worked out fine, would B have been even better? If A failed, would B have succeeded, or would it have been an even larger disaster?

How, then, can we make better decisions?

There has been plenty written about the elements of decision-making (including, on this site, a really great evaluation tool, PPCO), but rather than revisit those, let me offer a different suggestion. Let me propose that the first thing to do when trying to make a decision is to revisit the question.

This sounds obvious, I know. Still, you’d be surprised how often the problem being solved gets lost while creating the solution.

Here’s an example. A few years ago, Blockbuster Video was trying to beat back the assault of Netflix, the by-mail movie rental company. Blockbuster had the advantage of right now; a customer could decide they want a movie right now, and they could drive over to the store and get it. Netflix required planning ahead: build your movie queue online, get the movies by mail, but Netflix had the advantage of whenever, as in one could return the movie whenever they wanted to. Blockbuster customers hated late fees, hated having to drive back to the store to get the disc in the box before closing time, hated the costs associated with right now.

The problem was how to better compete with Netflix. The solution Blockbuster arrived at was to (sort of) eliminate late fees. Briefly: rent a movie, keep it as long as you like, but if you keep it more than 30 days, you get charged $30 to purchase the movie, and if you decide to return it after that, you’d get your money back, less a “restocking” fee of $1.75.

This solution (which caused them to be immediately sued for deceptive practices by multiple state Attorneys General) mostly but not entirely eliminated late fees, which customers hated, but it did not address the real problem: how to better compete with Netflix. Because it wasn’t just the late fees that drove people from one to the other: it was the collection of things that Netflix did to make renting easier, more enjoyable, and more affordable (the online queue, the predictable monthly fee, the lack of late fees or any extra fees, the home delivery, the ease of return, the very wide selection, etc.). If the Blockbuster execs had looked at each other and asked, “Does this help us better compete with Netflix,” they would have gone back to the drawing board and arrived at a different solution.

The next time my daughter has a clothing crisis, I think I’ll ask her: what’s the problem you are trying to solve? If she says, “which to choose,” I can remind her that that’s not a problem. If she says, “which one is right,” or “which one is better,” I can remind her that they are both right…and that that’s not the problem, either. I can help her to understand that the problem she’s trying to solve is which will make her happier while she’s wearing them.

And now ask yourself, the next time you are making a decision: First of all, does this solution actually solve the problem?

    Decisions, decisions…

    By Paul Reali


    This morning, my younger daughter was having a clothing crisis. “The problem,” she said, “is that both of these leggings look good with this outfit.” I decided, as parents are wont to do, that this was a teachable moment.


    "If you have two good choices," I said, "that’s not a problem. If neither pair looks good, that might be a problem. If your leggings are dirty, or torn, or don’t fit, or don’t exist, that’s a problem. If you have two good choices, though, that’s not a problem. That’s a decision."


    She’s seven, so it’s hard to say whether she understood the lesson. I figure that at the very least, she’ll change the way she talks about this kind of dilemma: she’ll say she’s having trouble making a decision, not that she has a problem.


    But I learned something from this exchange, too. I realized that she did have a problem: she was trying to make the right decision, and she didn’t know how to go about it. The leggings were not the problem; making the decision was. It was obvious to her that one of the options must be more right than the other. I know that when one has two equally good options (with zero cost for being wrong), one can just flip a coin…but she didn’t see it that way. In her eyes, there was, in fact, a right answer.


    We are conditioned this way, to find the right answer, the best answer. When we make decisions at work and in the larger parts of life, in most cases, one option almost certainly will turn out better than the other, and it is important that we make a good decision. After all, that’s what they pay us for, more or less: to solve hard problems and make difficult decisions.


    And so, what we do is gather as much data as we can, set criteria, evaluate, project forward, etc., and then decide. We do this with a kind of eternal uncertainty. If we choose A over B, we might never really know if we made the better choice. If A worked out fine, would B have been even better? If A failed, would B have succeeded, or would it have been an even larger disaster?


    How, then, can we make better decisions?


    There has been plenty written about the elements of decision-making (including, on this site, a really great evaluation tool, PPCO), but rather than revisit those, let me offer a different suggestion. Let me propose that the first thing to do when trying to make a decision is to revisit the question.


    This sounds obvious, I know. Still, you’d be surprised how often the problem being solved gets lost while creating the solution.


    Here’s an example. A few years ago, Blockbuster Video was trying to beat back the assault of Netflix, the by-mail movie rental company. Blockbuster had the advantage of right now; a customer could decide they want a movie right now, and they could drive over to the store and get it. Netflix required planning ahead: build your movie queue online, get the movies by mail, but Netflix had the advantage of whenever, as in one could return the movie whenever they wanted to. Blockbuster customers hated late fees, hated having to drive back to the store to get the disc in the box before closing time, hated the costs associated with right now.


    The problem was how to better compete with Netflix. The solution Blockbuster arrived at was to (sort of) eliminate late fees. Briefly: rent a movie, keep it as long as you like, but if you keep it more than 30 days, you get charged $30 to purchase the movie, and if you decide to return it after that, you’d get your money back, less a “restocking” fee of $1.75.


    This solution (which caused them to be immediately sued for deceptive practices by multiple state Attorneys General) mostly but not entirely eliminated late fees, which customers hated, but it did not address the real problem: how to better compete with Netflix. Because it wasn’t just the late fees that drove people from one to the other: it was the collection of things that Netflix did to make renting easier, more enjoyable, and more affordable (the online queue, the predictable monthly fee, the lack of late fees or any extra fees, the home delivery, the ease of return, the very wide selection, etc.). If the Blockbuster execs had looked at each other and asked, “Does this help us better compete with Netflix,” they would have gone back to the drawing board and arrived at a different solution.


    The next time my daughter has a clothing crisis, I think I’ll ask her: what’s the problem you are trying to solve? If she says, “which to choose,” I can remind her that that’s not a problem. If she says, “which one is right,” or “which one is better,” I can remind her that they are both right…and that that’s not the problem, either. I can help her to understand that the problem she’s trying to solve is which will make her happier while she’s wearing them.


    And now ask yourself, the next time you are making a decision: First of all, does this solution actually solve the problem?


    See full post and discussion
    Posted: 1 year ago
  2. Point of Departure
By Amy Frazier
Italian translation ringraziamenti a Remo Nuzzolese.

Embarking on the act of creating something is like launching ourselves on a journey. Though the route begins at our point of departure, too often our imagination is focused on what we’ll do when we arrive – the sights we’ll see, the marvels we’ll experience – and not on the path which can take us there.

Years ago, when traveling in Italy, I learned a valuable lesson about the importance of clarifying the path.

My travel companion (read: husband-at-the-time) and I had quit our jobs to dedicate four months of our newly married life to the highways and byways of his ancestral paese. He was the anthropological guide, I the cultural attaché. He gravitated toward the ruins, ancient coins and familial table. I led us to the museums, restaurants, and – importantly – to the wine. We were on a backpacker’s budget, so the choice of all of the above had to be strategically considered and meticulously planned. Guided by a slim paperback on Italian food and wine, I readied recommendations as we arrived in each regional capital.

On the day in question, we were in Piedmont in search of its good wines, exemplars of which could be found in and about the town of Canelli, home of Moscato d’Asti and one of the premiere wine-producing communities in the world.

We had planned to take a locale train to Alba, and from there board a bus to Canelli. The train pulled in and we piled out. Husband-at-the-time trotted over to one of the waiting busses, spoke quickly to the driver up on his perch, and then waved me to hurry. The bus was leaving right then.

The urgency seemed inconsistent with my carefully planned itinerary, but I hurried on board. The bus pulled away. The driver turned to us over his shoulder and affirmed: “Stiamo andando a Canale…”

Only the very slightest shift in vowels caught my attention. Did he say “Can-ei-lee?” or did he say “Can-ah-ley?” “Aspetta!” I said. “Wait! — Canelli?” “Ma no,” he said. “Canale!” “Ferma!” I called out. Stop! We’d jumped on the wrong bus.

Canelli and Canale. So close, yet the distinction meant everything. The towns were less than 25 miles apart – still, to have arrived at unremarkable Canale in the search for noteworthy Canelli would have been a disappointing waste of resources, and an unnecessary loss of experience.

I think about this near-miss sometimes when I find myself impatient to move forward with a creative project and suspect that I’m forcing the process. I also think about it when I hear people describe a point in the future as the moment when they will engage their creative thinking — when the time is ripe to “toss around ideas,” for example, much the way that husband-at-the-time and I looked forward to tossing back a few glasses of Canelli’s effervescent varietals.

What makes us think that creativity, and its cousin curiosity, aren’t at least as important when we are boarding the bus as they will be when we arrive?

In fact, with applied creativity and innovation processes, choosing which bus to board is the first major phase of work. It’s a highly creative space and demands attention, inquisitiveness, and clarity. In fact, it sometimes goes under the name of “clarification.” If we don’t do a good job clarifying, we may find ourselves miles down the road, in a town that sounds kind of like where we thought we were headed, but where the returns aren’t nearly as gratifying. Often such near misses (in contrast to the really major failures of navigation, such as ending up in neighboring Austria, for example), are simply papered over, the losses quietly and cynically chalked up to failed ideation efforts, or “bad brainstorming.” But if you didn’t know where you were going when you set out, or which bus you jumped on to get there, is it any wonder your discoveries may disappoint?

On the other hand, taking the time upfront to bring creative thinking to the clarification part of the process can benefit you immeasurably down the road. It’s more time intensive at the beginning, but, much like the efforts which go into producing good wine, it’s worth it: ideas are better vetted to successfully find their home in the world, with less confusion and strain. Their worth has been made clear.

So the next time you’re tempted to save the creative thinking for a later stage in the process, consider this: “Lu vino buono se venne senza frasca.” Good wine can be sold without needing to advertise.

    Point of Departure

    By Amy Frazier

    Italian translation ringraziamenti a Remo Nuzzolese.


    Embarking on the act of creating something is like launching ourselves on a journey. Though the route begins at our point of departure, too often our imagination is focused on what we’ll do when we arrive – the sights we’ll see, the marvels we’ll experience – and not on the path which can take us there.


    Years ago, when traveling in Italy, I learned a valuable lesson about the importance of clarifying the path.


    My travel companion (read: husband-at-the-time) and I had quit our jobs to dedicate four months of our newly married life to the highways and byways of his ancestral paese. He was the anthropological guide, I the cultural attaché. He gravitated toward the ruins, ancient coins and familial table. I led us to the museums, restaurants, and – importantly – to the wine. We were on a backpacker’s budget, so the choice of all of the above had to be strategically considered and meticulously planned. Guided by a slim paperback on Italian food and wine, I readied recommendations as we arrived in each regional capital.


    On the day in question, we were in Piedmont in search of its good wines, exemplars of which could be found in and about the town of Canelli, home of Moscato d’Asti and one of the premiere wine-producing communities in the world.


    We had planned to take a locale train to Alba, and from there board a bus to Canelli. The train pulled in and we piled out. Husband-at-the-time trotted over to one of the waiting busses, spoke quickly to the driver up on his perch, and then waved me to hurry. The bus was leaving right then.


    The urgency seemed inconsistent with my carefully planned itinerary, but I hurried on board. The bus pulled away. The driver turned to us over his shoulder and affirmed: “Stiamo andando a Canale…”


    Only the very slightest shift in vowels caught my attention. Did he say “Can-ei-lee?” or did he say “Can-ah-ley?” “Aspetta!” I said. “Wait! — Canelli?” “Ma no,” he said. “Canale!” “Ferma!” I called out. Stop! We’d jumped on the wrong bus.


    Canelli and Canale. So close, yet the distinction meant everything. The towns were less than 25 miles apart – still, to have arrived at unremarkable Canale in the search for noteworthy Canelli would have been a disappointing waste of resources, and an unnecessary loss of experience.


    I think about this near-miss sometimes when I find myself impatient to move forward with a creative project and suspect that I’m forcing the process. I also think about it when I hear people describe a point in the future as the moment when they will engage their creative thinking — when the time is ripe to “toss around ideas,” for example, much the way that husband-at-the-time and I looked forward to tossing back a few glasses of Canelli’s effervescent varietals.


    What makes us think that creativity, and its cousin curiosity, aren’t at least as important when we are boarding the bus as they will be when we arrive?


    In fact, with applied creativity and innovation processes, choosing which bus to board is the first major phase of work. It’s a highly creative space and demands attention, inquisitiveness, and clarity. In fact, it sometimes goes under the name of “clarification.” If we don’t do a good job clarifying, we may find ourselves miles down the road, in a town that sounds kind of like where we thought we were headed, but where the returns aren’t nearly as gratifying. Often such near misses (in contrast to the really major failures of navigation, such as ending up in neighboring Austria, for example), are simply papered over, the losses quietly and cynically chalked up to failed ideation efforts, or “bad brainstorming.” But if you didn’t know where you were going when you set out, or which bus you jumped on to get there, is it any wonder your discoveries may disappoint?


    On the other hand, taking the time upfront to bring creative thinking to the clarification part of the process can benefit you immeasurably down the road. It’s more time intensive at the beginning, but, much like the efforts which go into producing good wine, it’s worth it: ideas are better vetted to successfully find their home in the world, with less confusion and strain. Their worth has been made clear.


    So the next time you’re tempted to save the creative thinking for a later stage in the process, consider this: “Lu vino buono se venne senza frasca.” Good wine can be sold without needing to advertise.


    See full post and discussion
    Posted: 1 year ago
  3. The Million Dollar Suitcase

Three suitcases are all labeled incorrectly, and you must get the labels right in order to find the million dollar suitcase (the one full of hundred dollar bills).

The labels on the suitcases read as follows:

$100 Bills
  $1 Bills
  Both ($100 & $1 Bills)
You are allowed one test. You may remove only one bill from a single suitcase, after which you must make your determination. You can’t peek into the suitcases. Can you find the million dollar suitcase?

Can this be done? If so, how? If not, why not?


  


  Hint and Learning

  Do you feel like you are missing all the data you need to deduce an answer? Most people do because they don’t take into account that the phrase “Three suitcases are all labeled incorrectly…” provides some really important information about what is not in each suitcase. This lack of clarification is a common pitfall in problem solving - especially creative problem solving. Next time you are faced with a difficult challenge try reviewing all the data and test your assumptions carefully. This can be a powerful method for elucidating the problem or reframing the challenge.

  Now go back and try solving the puzzle with this new clarity.

  


  


  Solution

  First, take one bill from the suitcase labeled “Both.” If that bill is a $1 bill, and since all suitcases are mislabeled, then that suitcase must be full of $1 bills.

  Since the one labeled “Both” has only $1 bills, that leaves the suitcase labeled “$100 bills” and the suitcase labeled “$1 bills.” Since, all suitcases are mislabeled, the suitcase labeled “$100 Bills” must not have $100 bills in it, and since we’ve already identified the $1 bill suitcase, it must have “Both.” and that leaves the suitcase labeled “$1 Bills,” which must be full of $100 bills (The Million Dollar Suitcase).

  If instead that first bill we pulled was a $100 bill, then we found our million dollar suitcase with the first try, woohoo!

  



Share this with a friend or colleague.
  Sign up for Monthly Innovation Exercises.

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    The Million Dollar Suitcase


    Three suitcases are all labeled incorrectly, and you must get the labels right in order to find the million dollar suitcase (the one full of hundred dollar bills).


    The labels on the suitcases read as follows:


    • $100 Bills
    • $1 Bills
    • Both ($100 & $1 Bills)

    You are allowed one test. You may remove only one bill from a single suitcase, after which you must make your determination. You can’t peek into the suitcases. Can you find the million dollar suitcase?


    Can this be done? If so, how? If not, why not?




    • Share this with a friend or colleague.
    • Sign up for Monthly Innovation Exercises.

    See full post and discussion
    Posted: 1 year ago
  4. "If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and only five minutes finding the solution."

    -Albert Einstein

    See full post and discussion
    Posted: 1 year ago
  5. "We are continually faced by great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems"

    - Lee Iacocca

    See full post and discussion
    Posted: 3 years ago