Punjab di Lassi; Also how to think innovatively

A maker of washing machines found that quite suddenly the sale of washing
machines had increased in Punjab during the Summer . Curious to know why,
they found that the buyers were Dhaba Owners!

And the Washing machines were being used to make Lassi ..

One dhaba owner innovatively used the machine, the news rapidly spread and
others followed suit to increase their business & provide speedy service.

The easier question is, 'What can you do similarly to solve some of your problems?' But the better question is, 'How can you come up with such creative and innovative answers to your problems?'

There are several methodologies, but their essence boils down to this.

Step 1 - Articulate the problem. A problem is best articulated with symptoms. Symptoms answer to the question, 'what?', not, 'why?' or 'how?'

For example: 'It takes a long time to go anywhere' is better than 'This place has a traffic problem'. However, you could also state it as, 'People don't follow rules' and come up with another set of solutions.

This is pretty much like ensuring that the ladder is leaning against the right wall. All answers that you come up with, will depend on how the problem is stated!

Step 2: Try your hand at some inductive reasoning. Generalize the problem. See it as a specific occurence of a larger pattern.

Continuing the example (it takes a long time to go anywhere...):

You could generalize that the larger problem patterns are:
a) All megapolis have traffic problems
b) Living beings in any crowded situation will have traffic problems
c) (this is akin to) When too many thoughts are running in the mind, it has a traffic problem

The last example, is more of a lateral jump, very similar to how people resort to using metaphors and similies to describe a situation. In fact, it is a great idea to think whether any metaphors and similies apply to the situation.

Upto now we have done two things:
1. First we had a problem - and we were able to state it!
2. Then you tried to see the problem as one amongst a pattern of problems. This was inductive thinking to arrive at a pattern. (At this stage it is best if you can try to see the problem in as many patterns as possible)

Step 3: Make friends with the pattern. For each of the patterns, think of a few instances of how it manifests into different problem. Everytime you do so, also go to Step 4.

Step 4. For each instance: see if the problem is solved in a particular way. If yes, come back to the original problem and see how it can be applied 'equivalently' to the original problem.

Continuing with our traffic example:

1. Bangalore has a traffic problem

2. Similar problem patterns are:
a) All megapolis have traffic problems
b) Living beings in any crowded situation will have traffic problems
c) When too many thoughts are running in the mind, it has a traffic problem

3. & 4. Examples of how it manifests (and is solved):
a) All megapolis have traffic problems
i. because of traffic problems - better roads; better road planning (Shanghai has 5 concentric ring roads already!)
ii. because of traffic problems - grow the city vertically - singapore is dotted with skyscrapers. Then your business travel is limited to that block.
iii. Because of fewer traffic problems with bicycles than cars - encourage cycling/ walking in downtown; build a mass-transit to downtown.

b) Living beings in any crowded situation will have traffic problems
i. Ants walk in a single file out of an ants colony - have a personal transport system, in which you join and exit a line (a moving tug rope, over a dedicated lane of skateboarders?)
ii. When stalked by a herd of gazelle - all of them take off in the same general direction - one way traffic
iii. In a beehive, the bees pack themselves efficiently - park cars so that they don't obstruct traffic (can it be mechanized?)

c) When too many thoughts are running in the mind, it has a traffic problem
i. Force yourself to think one thought at a time by planning your day. Similarly, Plan the traffic by scheduling office/ school hours.
ii. Talking to someone slows down the thoughts and organizes them. Can you (and your cycle) be ferried on a bigger vehicle so that there is less traffic on main roads but you remain mobile on the last mile?
iii. Meditation calms the mind. Can some areas of the city be offlimit to mechanized traffic? Can there be some no-traffic days in some areas?


creative commons
(to add/ edit, do post in comments below)

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