Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Implementable Appropriate Solutions


There are plenty of “great solutions looking for a problem” in Silicon Valley and elsewhere. This blog post isn’t about that, or how to avoid that. Rather than address that fundamental issue that exists especially among the entrepreneurs where they are passionate about something no one else seems to care about, this post focuses on solving solutions that actually exist.

It turns out that there are plenty of solutions to a problem that actually exist and are pressing, such as access to clean water in developing countries, malnutrition among the poor, etc. The solutions that come out aren’t necessarily aligned with the environment where the end users are, despite the practice of rapid prototyping and other methods.

Lean startup and design thinking introduced the idea that the needs of the end user and experience matter, and should be introduced at the earliest stage possible, and their feedback and reactions taken into account immediately without attachment to your original ideas.

Still, we are at a loss when it comes to providing solutions to the developing world: “1 laptop per child” without a reliable power source doesn’t get them out of poverty, and the price is still out of reach for the 20% of the world’s population (over a billion people) living on less than $1 a day.

If we can keep just 3 things in mind when we develop the solution, we might come up with something more aligned:

  1. Embrace the fact that technology is not necessarily the solution,
  2. Design the solution with what they already have, and
  3. Sustained success requires more than the one time introduction of the solution.

The second point speaks to finding the bright spots that already exist in the community you are trying to solve the problem for/in. If obvious bright spots do not exist, we can simulate the environment they have, and solve the problem only using the resources they have available. I call this problem solving method, “the Apollo 13“. When Astronaut Lovell uttered, “Houston, we’ve had a problem,” the NASA mission control didn’t just dream up a solution they can execute on Earth, they had to come up with a solution the 3 astronauts stranded in Apollo 13 could implement, in their own environment, for their own environment. The mission control staff inventoried the available supplies and got to solving the oxygen tank failure.

I don’t know what problem solving method was used when someone came up with the brilliant idea of folding laundered sari fabric multiple times acted as a water filter, effective enough to reduce the incidents of cholera that was plaguing villages in Bangladesh. The Apollo 13 Method may help us focus on solving the problem for the people who are affected to empower themselves,  rather than wanting to have a technological and grand solutions we can give to others.

Lastly, even in the sustainable solution of the sari water filter, the researchers found out that the method was not consistently practiced later: “An object lesson: The researchers concluded that even cheap, easy, familiar solutions require behavioral changes that need periodic reinforcement.”

We mustn’t forget the human factor where we tend to revert to our old ways, and reinforcement is required until the method becomes part of the cultural practice and the accepted norm.

Photo: Pennsylvania Dutch country


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This entry was posted on September 13, 2015 by in Entrepreneurship, Management.
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