Look For The Simplest Solution

If you’re running a small business, you can’t afford the luxury of complex solutions when there are simple solutions to be had.

Consider a story I heard a couple of years back. Scene: a group of bicycle riders in London are discussing a problem on an internet forum.

First Poster

As I pedaled to work today, I thought to myself, why hasn’t anyone ever invented a bicycle with heated handlebar grips? These New England mornings can really make your knuckles suffer! Has anyone seen or heard of something like this?

Second Poster

Fantastic idea. Let’s build one! I’ve already got a preliminary design in mind: attach a dynamo to the pedals, run some wires through the frame, and add a mesh on the grips.

Third Poster

That’s brilliant: we can reuse body heat more efficiently! This way, the system could be used when walking/jogging as well.

We’d simply use a thin inner-jacket (like a wind breaker) and run some flexible tubes from the tip of the sleeves to the midriff (which never seems to get cold). There’d be valved inlet and outlet water connectors at the sleeves to distribute the warmed water to the hands via a fine mesh of smaller tubes.

The water would circulate due to the one-way valves and compressions of the device caused by walking/cycling movements. If necessary, we could add the battery/dynamo-powered heater for extra warming of the water. Obviously, that’d be bicycle-specific, though.

Fourth Poster

Great! Lets include a backup battery as well.

Final Poster

This has to be the most idiotic discussion I’ve read since … well … last week, when you were discussing the architecture for the UND component.

The reason that this “hand warming system” does not exist is because most people have found a pair of gloves to be a perfectly suitable way for keeping one’s hands warm.

Roughly paraphrased from The Daily WTF.

The post ends with a sage point about always looking for the easiest, simplest and most obvious solution.

The Tinkerer’s Dilemma

The problem is, that’s just not cool.

A dynamo-powered handle warmer driven by the kinetic energy of your spinning bike wheel is quite simply awesome, and easy to get excited about.

But it requires tens of hours of effort, work, testing and tinkering. And you’ve got 10 other things that are all urgent, and need immediate action.

Focusing your attention on problems that have an existing solution is a terrible habit to get into, and will sink your business and your productivity. Don’t create roadblocks to progress by sinking your time into solving the wrong problems.

Practical Applications – The Simplest Solution

A few years back, we had a problem at Webnet IT. People were entering in timesheets in bulk a few days after the work had been completed, instead of the same day.

It’s a process that only takes a few minutes, but it was difficult for people to change their routine. As a result, we didn’t know which support contracts were on track to be fulfilled.

We had situations where a support contract had 4 hours left, so Consultant A scheduled a 4 hour visit. In the meantime, Consultant B entered a late 4 hour timesheet, completing the support contract. Consultant A then entered their timesheet, making a 4 hour excess charge for that client. When we found out, we had to credit the client for that time, which was doubly painful since Consultant A could have been doing billable work elsewhere.

I came up with a range of solutions.

  • Sending automated reminder emails
  • Setting up game mechanics to provide points for prompt timesheet entry
  • Creating manuals and processes for admin staff to call consultants to check timesheet entry
  • Linking the consultant’s calendar into the timesheet entry system
  • etc etc etc.

In the end, we found a solution that solved the problem almost overnight.

We disabled the date field in the timesheet entry.

Suddenly, it became a huge pain to enter a late timesheet. Consultants needed to mail me directly, and ask for a date to be changed on a late timesheet.

This solution won’t work for everyone, but it was the simplest possible solution to a persistent problem, and worked fantastically well for us.

As the writer at the DailyWTF poignantly says; If you’re designing solutions, take a good, hard look at your first revision, and say to yourself, “Gloves.”

Jay Winder

Jay Winder is the Australian Co-Founder of MakeLeaps. Jason came to Japan in 2001 to study martial arts, set up his first business called Webnet IT in 2003, and set up MakeLeaps in 2010 with the vision of unlocking the potential of freelancers and businesses in Japan with clean and powerful software. If you like, follow me on Twitter.

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