Fall in love with the problem, not the solution

This article was originally published December 28, 2014.

I was sitting at dinner last night with a good friend talking about his interest in using iBeacons to solve a particular logistics problem. He was so worried about trying to fit iBeacons into the idea, that he didn’t see it was a bad idea.

It hit me. He had fallen in love with iBeacons and really wanted to use them somewhere.

The challenge with falling in love with a solution is that every time you look for problems, you only find ones solved with solutions you love. This is quite debilitating to problem solving.

I told my friend, “you have fallen in love with iBeacons when you need to fall in love with your problem.”

What I meant was he needed to know everything about his problem before jumping to the solution. The reason is simple. When we know a problem deeply and own every aspect of it we see things that are non-obvious. By removing the filters of solutions we like or want to implement at some point, we are able to solve efficiently and elegantly.

Consider last night’s conversation. iBeacons were brought up as a way to track people doing a particular task in a logistics network. The problem with iBeacons is that they require my friend to load an app on each person’s phone, but he didn’t employ the people in the network.

He would also have to purchase, configure, ship, install, and maintain the iBeacons in the field at tens of thousands of locations. This is a lot of work and expense to track people doing some basic tasks. I recommended he not use the cool new technology when his problem was not clearly identified. I challenged him to run the problem with pen and paper first, find the nuances and commonalities of the problem, and then look for a solution that would keep his total cost of ownership low while making it easy to implement and scale.

He could not get any of this with iBeacons and when he internalized my disregard for his solution, the figurative “light bulb” turned on.

Leveraging this in your daily life

If you look to your daily problem solving, you will find someone fascinated with a solution so much that they try to fit it into any problem presented. Software engineers are famous for doing this — a lot.

It takes effort to slow the process down a bit, and it goes against our human nature of fixing things quickly and moving on. But consider the most brilliant solutions to everyday challenges and you will find some people that knew the problem well enough to craft the right solution.

Now not every solution warrants the pen and paper model, however you will be surprised how many things can be brought down to a network model. I don’t mean a computer network, but the network in the most simplistic sense. Networks can be used to identify how people/things move, how people/things interact, how people/things connect, etc.

After you run the scenarios with the pen and paper model, look at it from all angles. Find the commonalities that are inherent in the flow and then identify the right tool for the job. Otherwise you may be the person carrying around the hammer, looking for all the nails.