Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Can a bit of insanity nail down the solution?

We all are good at trying the acknowledged path to get to a solution. My question is - will it help if we add a bit of insanity to it?

What if we imagine that the constraints for solving the problem do not exist? If a solution requires air to be passing through the glass, assume it can. If your solution needs a vacuum to operate in the open sky, assume it is available.

Get hold of such multiple imaginary solutions, then start working backwards. Ask what are the alternatives to get those unachievable constraint(s) replaced by something which is practical, while moving your insane solution towards a more practical one.

Reduce one constraint at a time and note down the ideas you get during this elimination. Don’t eliminate your constraint from being there, to not being there in one step, reduce it gradually (if vacuum was the assumption, then assume vacuum available only for one minute in twenty four hours, if it can’t work out, then say it is only available in the closed environment, then, only if there is no way to create the vacuum where your solution will play; then say vacuum is not available).

Reduce the insanity in your solution only when you and your team give up on that particular insanity! Check out if the ideas, the arguments you had during this time are useful to you, if it is, then put it back in your acknowledged path of getting to a solution.

Let’s try an example. A new axe design is required, an axe should be heavy so it can create impact, and light so it is easy to handle. In other words we have contradicting requirements - Axe should be both heavy and light!

What could be insane to think while designing the new axe?
1) Keep on increasing the length of the handle, till the swing provides the desired impact.
2) Make the iron weigh nothing during the swing, but make it heavy when near to the impact.
3) Have an axe filled with heavy liquid, which moved towards the head at the time of impact.
4) One impact creates a ripple of impacts automatically.
5) Grow pre-cut trees, so the axe itself is not needed.
6) The handle does not cut the wood, get rid of the handle.

We do not know what went in the minds of innovator for this new design. But after a few iterations of working backwards, a new axe was designed which sort of achieved both the results of being heavy and light simultaneously.

The center of gravity was moved towards the head by reducing the weight of the handle. Now the axe has more impact and due to hollow handle overall weight of the axe is reduced.

Insane thinking by sane people can lead to a long tail within, and to a desired solution. Give it a try.


  1. On a similar vein, sometimes moving from a 'current situation' towards an 'improved situation' is difficult because of the prevalining constraints. It is better then to assume a 'greenfield' situation, design the optimum solution and then work back to a practical solution. The constriants (may) still apply but they are apprached from a different direction and may be more effectively dealth with.

  2. Failure to recognize constraints generally results in impossible products, or unacceptable products. The trick is identifying the right constraints, and separating out the hard (unavoidable) constraints from the soft (perhaps temporary) constraints. In the axe example, mass and weight are inextricably linked by a fixed constant, as long as your trees are near the surface of the earth. New blade designs, which reduce the force needed to split the wood, may be more valuable than new handle designs.

  3. the picture in the article is absurd. What ever
    may be the hidden intentions, tying down the hammer itself with nails sends a highly negative

  4. To cut with axe we don't require new technology or new type of blade,
    But its the skill of a person who knows how to use it, if its as a good sharper edge, it will be definitely cut it.
    There few people knows the trick of AXE.