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Look for the Solution within the Problem

Look for the Solution within the Problem
The Thinker

    Two prisoners dug a tunnel from their cell 80 feet to escape from prison. Where did they hide the dirt? This is one of the examples used by Roni Horowitz of the consultancy group SIT to show the advantages of a method called Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT).

    The answer is that they hid the dirt in the tunnel. The prisoners stole nylon sacks from the prison bakery and each day they dug the tunnel and put the dirt into the sacks. At cell inspection times they pushed all the dirt bags back into the tunnel and tidied the cell. When the prisoners escaped the guards found a cell full of bags of dirt and an empty tunnel.

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    It is a good example of one of the principles of SIT – look for the solution within the problem or its environment. The prisoners had very limited resources – but one of them was the tunnel itself.

    If we are given unlimited resources to solve a problem then we can always come up with something – and often it is expensive and over-engineered. When we have to use the limited set of resources contained in the problem and its immediate environment then we are forced to be more creative – and very often the result is a solution that is elegant, inexpensive and effective. Using the tunnel is a prime example.

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    When Hiram Maxim went pigeon shooting he noticed two problems. One was the strong recoil of the rifle into his shoulder. The second was that he had to stop to reload the gun. He wondered if it was possible to use one problem to solve the other and by doing so he invented the machine gun.

    At the end of the first Gulf War fires were raging out of control in the Kuwaiti oil refineries. What could be used to put them out? One answer might have been sand. But a better solution was found. The pipelines that were normally used to pump oil from the refineries were used to pump water to the refineries. By using an existing resource and reversing the flow the problem was overcome.

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    Engineers are accustomed to working in very constrained conditions. In the very early Volkswagen Beetle car there was a problem of how to provide the power needed for the windscreen washer. The ingenious solution that the engineers came up with was to use the air pressure from the spare wheel (which was in the front of the car) to power the water jet.

    But it is not just product engineers who can use internal resources in ingenious ways. In 2005 the IRA pulled off a major robbery at the Northern Bank in Belfast – they got away with £25m in banknotes. How could the authorities catch the criminals or stop them using the proceeds of their crime? They came up with a clever idea using one of the resources within the problem – the stolen banknotes. They changed the currency in Northern Ireland and reprinted all bank notes. Anyone holding old bank notes had to bring them in to be changed – and that is a big problem if you are holding millions of stolen banknotes.

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    So how can you use this approach in your problem solving? One of the methods taught in Systematic Inventive Thinking is to break the problem down into a chain of unwanted effects. Now consider in turn each element in the problem or its environment and say to yourself – this element can be adapted to stop one of the unwanted effects and to break the chain. Then come up with ideas. By rigorously and imaginatively applying this technique you will often find an inventive solution.

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    Paul Sloane

    Professional Keynote Speaker, Author, Innovation Expert

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    Last Updated on June 1, 2021

    7 Signs That You’re Way Too Busy (And Need to Change That)

    7 Signs That You’re Way Too Busy (And Need to Change That)

    “Busy” used to be a fair description of the typical schedule. More and more, though, “busy” simply doesn’t cut it.

    “Busy” has been replaced with “too busy”, “far too busy”, or “absolutely buried.” It’s true that being productive often means being busy…but it’s only true up to a point.

    As you likely know from personal experience, you can become so busy that you reach a tipping point…a point where your life tips over and falls apart because you can no longer withstand the weight of your commitments.

    Once you’ve reached that point, it becomes fairly obvious that you’ve over-committed yourself.

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    The trick, though, is to recognize the signs of “too busy” before you reach that tipping point. A little self-assessment and some proactive schedule-thinning can prevent you from having that meltdown.

    To help you in that self-assessment, here are 7 signs that you’re way too busy:

    1. You Can’t Remember the Last Time You Took a Day Off

    Occasional periods of rest are not unproductive, they are essential to productivity. Extended periods of non-stop activity result in fatigue, and fatigue results in lower-quality output. As Sydney J. Harris once said,

    “The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”

    2. Those Closest to You Have Stopped Asking for Your Time

    Why? They simply know that you have no time to give them. Your loved ones will be persistent for a long time, but once you reach the point where they’ve stopped asking, you’ve reached a dangerous level of busy.

    3. Activities like Eating Are Always Done in Tandem with Other Tasks

    If you constantly find yourself using meal times, car rides, etc. as times to catch up on emails, phone calls, or calendar readjustments, it’s time to lighten the load.

    It’s one thing to use your time efficiently. It’s a whole different ballgame, though, when you have so little time that you can’t even focus on feeding yourself.

    4. You’re Consistently More Tired When You Get up in the Morning Than You Are When You Go to Bed

    One of the surest signs of an overloaded schedule is morning fatigue. This is a good indication that you’ve not rested well during the night, which is a good sign that you’ve got way too much on your mind.

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    If you’ve got so much to do that you can’t even shut your mind down when you’re laying in bed, you’re too busy.

    5. The Most Exercise You Get Is Sprinting from One Commitment to the Next

    It’s proven that exercise promotes healthy lives. If you don’t care about that, that’s one thing. If you’d like to exercise, though, but you just don’t have time for it, you’re too busy.

    If the closest thing you get to exercise is running from your office to your car because you’re late for your ninth appointment of the day, it’s time to slow down.

    Try these 5 Ways to Find Time for Exercise.

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    6. You Dread Getting up in the Morning

    If your days are so crammed full that you literally dread even starting them, you’re too busy. A new day should hold at least a small level of refreshment and excitement. Scale back until you find that place again.

    7. “Survival Mode” Is Your Only Mode

    If you can’t remember what it feels like to be ahead of schedule, or at least “caught up”, you’re too busy.

    So, How To Get out of Busyness?

    Take a look at this video:

    And these articles to help you get unstuck:

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    Featured photo credit: Khara Woods via unsplash.com

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