Anatomy of a solution

Every solution is meant to solve a problem. Some solutions solve the problem well, others don’t. Some never get implemented. A friend of mine once called software ideas that never go anywhere as “vaporware”: great ideas that vanished as fast as they appeared, into thin air as if it was vapor.

My own “vaporware”

I do tremendous amount of vaporware. Do I feel frustrated? No, just humiliated. Humiliated for sharing vaporware with colleagues, spending their time listening to me, over nothing. Humiliated for not understanding my time is limited and most of my ideas will never leave my head.

Most of my ideas never fell through because they are bad, impractical, create more problems than the one intended to solve or for simple good old procrastination. With time I learn to chase the best ideas, quickest wins and, most importantly, keep them to myself until I have something to show for.

What is a good solution?

On my experience, the simplest solutions are always the best. Also the hardest to come up with and the easiest to understand. A simple solution requires complete understanding of the problem and careful weighing its pro and cons.

Think about one of the oldest, simplest and most important solutions humans invented: the wheel. It is just a round thing, how hard could it have been to come up with? It is not quantum physics. And yet someone had to come up with the idea and go through the effort of bashing a couple of rocks.

If we are given the solution and then explained the problem solved, it seems quite simple. The simpler the solution, the less credit we give to its creator, no matter how much effort was put into it. If someone gives us a problem and asks us for a solution, then things get complicated.

From a practical point of view, a good solution improves the current state, its advantages outweigh its disadvantages and the cost to implement it is inferior to the gain obtained from it. You satisfy all of this, you got yourself a great solution, no matter the size of the problem it solves.

What leads to a solution?

To reach a solution only three steps are required: problem  idea(s) implementation. Seems so simple, so why is it so hard to come up with solutions? You fail in any of these steps and you end up with no solution.

The first step, the problem, most of the time we don’t see it, “it is just the way things have always been”. The other day I watched an episode from an old show, produced before the mobile phones (cell phones) were around, where people kept missing each other. Now, we see those situations almost as impossible. Back then, no one ever thought “I could really use a mobile phone right now”, it was just the way it was.

Many times, a problem is thought to be unsolvable. Humans spent millenniums looking at birds, dreaming about flying and believing it was impossible. In our days, flying is a common thing. It took many failed attempts, small bits of progress made through centuries and some lives.

The hardest step is implementing, where we prove if ideas work. We tend to think of our ideas as “our babies”. We hold onto them, even after proven wrong and force them into work. Not knowing when to stop, seeking other approaches, is as bad as giving up on the first try.

The head is always flowing with ideas, all the time. Coming up with an idea worth trying or feasible, not so often. Even with a great idea, its successful implementation requires considerable amount of trial error. Usually, our first idea for a problem doesn’t work, but helps understand the problem better. Means to an end.

It is common to think only the hardest and biggest problems deserve our precious time. Smaller ones bring no fame or glory. And problems persist, year after year. So common in the software world.

If we notice the problem, if we believe it’s solvable, if we get a great idea, if we do something about it, if we take the right choices and if we don’t give up, we have good chances to create a solution.

Increasing our odds in succeeding

First step is to never say “no”, instead “maybe”. Chances a “no” will be successful? Zero. Chances with a “maybe”? Greater or equal than “no”. Give it some thinking, you never know when you are passing on a great idea.

Moving from a idea to real action, requires being brave, practical and humble: brave enough to fail; practical making decisions and knowing when to drop an idea; humble to ask for others opinion.

It is easy to get focused on little details and loose sight of the whole picture. When things get too complicated, the best is to stop thinking about it or ask for someone’s input. It is hard to pick that someone. The other person might think it is not a great idea and you spend most of your time trying to convince her/him otherwise. It is a waste of time for both and you get nothing useful from of it.

Modest ideas have more chances to succeed and are simpler to implement. A modest good solution is more valuable than no solution at all, even if people don’t give it any value. Our time is always well spent, if our lives are made easier, no matter how big the problem was. Let ideas flow naturally, don’t force yourself to find a solution, specially for the wrong reasons.

Don’t settle only with small solutions. Sometimes we need revolution, not evolution. Dreaming pays no taxes and it sure beats watching TV. Dreaming makes life so much more worth living. Shoot for the stars. You won’t get there, but you will get to a better place than before. Always have a plan B.

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