In a high-tech world, where we’re surrounded by complex technology, we often look for solutions to problems that are equally complex. But the truth is, the simplest solution is often the one that works best. I was talking recently with film producer Ralph Winter (X-Men, Planet of the Apes, Fantastic Four) and he told me about a conversation he had with his mentor, Harve Bennett, the driving force behind so many Star Trek movies. Harve said that one day he was sitting in his Paramount Studios office and a big chuck of plaster suddenly fell from the ceiling and crashed on his desk.
Looking up through the dust, Harve saw a leg hanging out of the ceiling so he yelled up there and realized it was a plumber trying to fix a leak in the ceiling. The plumber discovered that the leak had been fixed before – about 50 years before. They could tell by the 1940’s dates on the newspapers in the crawl space. The previous plumber had used newspapers to balance a bucket under the leak. Apparently, instead of changing out the entire line, he just put a bucket under the slow drip, and let the drops evaporate out of the bucket into the air.
A simple idea, and it worked for more than 50 years.
Sometimes we spend more time and effort trying to find a solution than the problem justifies, and in the business world, we build kingdoms around the way we solve problems, rather than just getting it solved and moving on. (Ever hear of “bureaucracy”?)
Early in my career, I had a friend who juggled a lot of responsibilities, so he decided the best solution was a really great “To Do” list. Every day, he spent his first two hours in the office getting his “To Do” list just right. It was the most organized and elegant to do list I had ever seen. But once he was happy with it, he didn’t have much time left to actually accomplish anything.
It may not be true, but there’s a great illustration from the early days of the space program. NASA spent millions developing a “space pen” – a device to help them write in zero gravity.
What did the Soviets do?
They used a pencil.
Next time, look for the simple solution.