1. When NASA began launching astronauts into space, they found out that the astronauts’ pens wouldn’t work at zero gravity (ink wouldn’t flow down to the writing surface). It took them one decade and $12 million to solve this problem. They developed a pen that worked at zero gravity, upside down, underwater, on practically any surface including crystal, and at temperatures ranging from below freezing to over 300 degrees C.
And what did the Russians do? The Russians used a pencil.
2. One of the most memorable case studies on Japanese management techniques was the case of the empty soap box, which occurred in one of Japan’s biggest cosmetics companies. The company received a complaint that a consumer had bought a soap box that was empty. Immediately the authorities isolated the problem to the assembly line, which transported all the packaged boxes of soap to the delivery department. For some reason, one soap box went through the assembly line empty. Management asked its engineers to solve the problem. Post-haste, the engineers worked hard to devise an X-ray machine with high-resolution monitors manned by two people to watch all the soap boxes that passed through the line, to make sure they were not empty. No doubt, they worked hard and they worked fast but they spent whoopee amount of time and money to do so.
But when a rank-and-file employee in a small company was posed with the same problem, he did not get into the complications of X-rays, etc but instead came out with another solution.. He bought a strong industrial electric fan and pointed it at the assembly line. He switched the fan on, and as each soap box passed the fan, it simply blew the empty boxes out of the line.
3. A 50 feet long trailer having 48″ wheels got stuck while entering a midtown tunnel in New York because it was approximately 0.2 feet taller than the height of the tunnel. The fire department and the state department of transportation spent the whole day searching for a solution, to no avail.
Then a child, aged about 9 years, asked his father, “Why can’t they take out the air from the tyre tubes? The height will automatically come down.”
Moral: Always look for simple solutions. And learn to focus on solutions, not on problems.