Two most basic and easy-to-use of my favorite tools for problem solving are presented here. The third one is on a separate page.
Elon Musk said more than once that “A is important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy”, meaning that analogy is not the best guide as it relies on something, which already happened. On the other hand, analogy is easier and faster. To continue with Elon Musk, “if you tried to reason from first principles all the time, you wouldn’t be able to get through your day”. And that is also very true.
One side note: by the first principles here – in our terminology – we should understand “deep root causes”. And the other side note: yes, I believe that analogy may still be a good way – rather easy, not always reliable but sometimes very powerful (if you happen to find a right one) due to the fact it is easy to communicate and it leads to already proven solutions. It goes as follows:
- Rephrase the problem as if you were explaining it to a five years old. Use vague nouns but precise verbs, e.g. “stealing things” is better than “taking food away”.
- For the “simplified” problem try to find fields (industries, businesses etc.) where such a problem is far more acute and far more important for the business to be successful. How this problem is solved there?
- If you find it difficult to identify the fields, try this problem on a bigger scale (e.g. mill → holding → country). On a smaller scale (e.g. mill → department → a person). Identify more fields and solutions.
- Now (hopefully) you have a list of ideas or even ready solutions. How to use the solutions in your initial situation?
- If there is no solution, try the Size-Time-Cost technique (the one to the right)
This is one of early-TRIZ tools. I like it because it is fits almost any situation, it is very powerful while quite easy to teach and to use. And it is pretty much fool-proof. In short, it just makes the job done:
- (1) What is the size (or quantity), time (or velocity) and cost describing the situation around the system (or its main element) you have a problem with? (2) Imagine the size to be ten times larger, 100 times larger, 1000 times larger… What ideas pop up in every case? (3) Decrease the initial size times 10, 100, 1000…
- For example, there is a high wall blocking your way, you need to get to the other side. How to do it? If you were 10 or 100 times larger, you would be able to step over the wall. 1000 times larger: destroy the wall (without even noticing it). 100000 times larger: you are “everywhere” – on both sides of the wall simultaneously. 100 times smaller: go under the wall, as a mouse. 10000 smaller: fly over or through…
- (4) Once you are done with the size, do the time (keeping size and cost fixed) and than (5) the cost. (6) Now you have a (long) list of ideas. How to apply them to your initial problem (or how to modify the initial circumstances – if it deems an easier option).