Problem solving simplified

Progressive rationalization: A mindset that helps you come to the right solution, fairly quickly

How often do you get caught in situations that demand a solution that just works? Often? Good, read on then. Do you think finding the solution is easy? No? Then this article is for you.

What if I told you that you can get to the optimum solution no matter what the problem is with a technique that I follow? Now that I have your attention and without any further ado I want to share this concept with you.

A typical water bottle carried by a school kid in India

Let’s start with a problem — School kids in India have a lot to carry with them everyday; Their school bags, a lunch basket, a humongous water bottle and more. These water bottles are quite heavy and filling them with water only adds to the weight. This weight often creates another problem. Kids will often spill water while they try to drink from the heavy bottle. Sometimes to make it easier to carry, mothers will given an additional basket which fits both the lunch box and the water bottle. Lunch boxes as of late have become more compact but the bottles still haven’t. Can we design a water bottle that simplifies this rather daunting task of carrying such a heavy water bottle?

Typical basket that fits the lunch box and a water bottle

Are you already trying to think of a solution? Don’t. Stop! That’s not how we should start. The first thing we need to do is understand the problem. The solution doesn’t come until the end of the process. We need to focus on understanding the problem first.

Step-1: Analyzing the problem. There are a couple of things to notice here, 
1. The first concern is the weight. The heavier the load the harder it is for the kids to drink without spilling
2. The next problem is size. If it is not compact they have to carry an additional basket.

Step-2: Now that we understand the problem, let’s start thinking of ways to solve the problem. Here’s a potential solution

Smaller metallic bottles that are compact in comparison to the bottle shown in the problem

Once you’ve thought about solutions to problems weigh the pros and cons
Pros: Smaller in size, rugged
Cons: Lighter due to size but maybe not compact enough, could still cause spillage

Step-3: Now, try to take the cons that you’ve identified in step-2 and solve them. You would end up with something like this

A lighter plastic bottle with a narrow opening and a lid to avoid spillage

Pros: Lighter, no spillage
Cons: Slimmer and more compact than the metallic ones, but still may not be enough

Repeat a couple more of these cycles and you will probably end up with your solution. Doing so allows you to progressively go through the problem and hence the name progressive rationalization.
A couple of cycles later perhaps your solution will look something like this

Slim, Compact and a narrow brim that is air tight to avoid spillage

Pros: Compact and can slide into the bag along with books, light in weight so won’t be a burden to carry around
Cons: Still could have minor leakage, not thermally insulated

There is a possibility that you would end up with the final solution that I’ve shown. That’s good. Start building from there until you think you’ve solved the problem at hand. I’m sure there would be better solutions than the one I’ve arrived at in this article. The idea here is to keep doing multiple iterations and not stop at the first round. This will allow you to think through problems and come up with solutions that matter. Figure out if the solution you’ve come up with solves all the problems that are important and then decide when you should stop. Process is the solution!

Process is the solution!

Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good. There will always be cons to a solution. A solution that works is a solution that solves all the problems in a given context. Context allows a solution to succeed or to fail. This is why many international companies fail. They often try to apply the same successful strategies in one country to another. This misses the context in which a certain solution succeeded and thus implementing the same strategy potentially creates more problems than actually solving the one that exists.

Progressive Rationalization, is a mindset more than a method. It allows you to progressively go through the rationale behind solving a problem in a specific context.

Progressive Rationalization, is a mindset more than a method. It allows you to progressively go through the rationale behind solving a problem in a specific context. This can be applied anywhere, from your daily problems at home, to the ones at work, or any other complex problems that exist. Weighing out the pros and cons is a very powerful and effective method that helps you make logical decisions fairly quickly.

Thanks to everyone @UXReactor who helped me in one form or the other to get this article out
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