You own a health club in LA. One of your members’ favorite perks is $50 bottles of designer shampoo you leave in all your shower stalls for guests to use for free. The problem is, many guests are using the word “free” a little too liberally and are stealing the bottles. The problem has become too expensive for you to ignore. Your task is to come up with a solution to this problem that:
- Stops the theft problem completely
- Does NOT involve taking away the shampoo perk - cannot involve discontinuing or limiting the current shampoo offering in any way (one full-size bottle of the current brand per stall must not change)
- Does NOT place any extra burden on the customer or employees
- Costs pennies at the absolute most
- Is easy to implement
This brainteaser (abridged here) appears in the introduction of Matthew May’s excellent book, Winning the Brain Game: Fixing the 7 Fatal Flaws of Thinking. No, I'm not going to give away the answer here (sorry!) but I guarantee you’re overthinking it right now.
Have you ever struggled for suggestions for continuous improvement from your employees? Maybe you set up what you thought was an inviting, open-ended, and respectful submissions system, only to get a near-negligible number of inputs? Have you ever struggled to reach a solution and had one of the fatal flaws run through your head, derailing your efforts? Then May’s book and the advice within might be your – and your people’s – guiding light.
Winning the Brain Game is May’s attempt to sum up what he calls the 7 fatal flaws of thinking: “patterned thinking traps” that can cripple one’s problem-solving efforts. They are:
- Leaping. Jumping straight to possible solutions without analyzing the problem in-depth.
- Fixation. Reverting to standard, habitual thinking patterns that may not be right for a given problem.
- Overthinking. Self-explanatory – adding unnecessary complexity to a decision.
- Satisficing. Cross between satisfy and suffice – a term by Nobel laureate Herbert Simon that describes our tendency to choose the easiest and most obvious solution, rather than thinking through the best solution.
- Downgrading. Something like Satisficing – “we fall short of the optimal or ideal solution, pick one that gets us most of the way there, then sell the upside and downplay the downside.” (May 2016)
- Not Invented Here (NIH). Automatically shutting down to ideas and solutions that were not a direct product of the problem-solving parties. Essentially saying, “Anything you can do I can do, better.”
- Self-Censoring. They say your toughest critic is yourself. There you have Self-Censoring.
Lean itself is all about learning to think differently – to change your people’s and your mindsets to craft a culture of creative problem-solving thinkers working towards a common goal. May’s book provides the tools needed to do just that – building an understanding of the thinking patterns that stave off problem-solving efforts and the countermeasures that can help you reach your True North.
For example, when discussing Jumpstarting – the fix for the Downgrading flaw – May’s first suggestion for Jumpstarting is a very simple change in mindset. It’s called “Can-If Cascading,” originally developed by brand strategist Adam Morgan, and involves no more than swapping two words for another two words during your thought processes.
“I can’t, because…” --> “I can, if…”
Such a simple change, yet with the power to help overcome one of the most common fatal flaws of thinking. Imagine:
“I can’t get more employees to contribute suggestions, because they’re too afraid of being seen as insubordinate.”
“I can get more employees to contribute suggestions, if I talk to them and assure them that no one is getting fired for pointing out waste on the shop floor.”
Simple, but powerful. Based on neuroscience, yet not drowning in advanced scientific concepts. And by extension, simple and accessible enough to not just understand yourself, but to help your people understand as well. Mention “Can-If Cascading” the next time somebody tells you, “I can’t, because…” It’s a small start but it provides a wealth of opportunity. The opportunities only increase from there when you read May’s book for yourself.
Comment down below if you think you know the solution to the opening brainteaser - I'll reveal the answer at a later date.