By JESUTEGA ONOKPASA
Case 1: When America began the launch of astronauts into space, they found out that the pens wouldn’t work at zero gravity (Ink didn”t flow down to the writing surface).
To solve this problem, it took the Americans one decade and $12 million. They ended up developing a marvel of a pen that worked at zero gravity, upside down, underwater, and in practically any surface including crystal as well as in a temperature range from below freezing to over 300 degrees C!
And what were the Russians able to come up with when faced with the same problem? Apparently not having the privilege of pockets as deep as those of NASA, their own space agency simply decided to use a pencil which, notwithstanding gravity, works just as well in space as on Earth!
Case 2:* One of the most memorable case studies on Japanese management was the case of the empty soapbox, which happened in one of Japan’s biggest cosmetics companies. The company received a complaint that a consumer had bought a soapbox that was empty. Immediately the authorities isolated the problem to the assembly line, which supplied all the packaged boxes of soap to the delivery department.
For some reason, one soapbox had gone through the assembly line empty. Management asked its engineers to solve the problem and post-haste, the engineers worked hard to devise an X-ray machine with high-resolution monitors manned by two people to watch all the soapboxes that passed through the line to make sure none were empty. To their credit, they worked hard and fast but ended up spending one hell of a lot of money in doing so.
But, when an employee in a much smaller company in India was faced with the same problem, he did not get into complications of X-rays, etc. but instead came up with a far simpler solution. He bought a strong industrial electric fan and pointed it at the assembly line. He switched the fan on and as each soapbox passed the fan, it simply blew any empty boxes out of the line.
As a general rule, unless they are likely to create other problems while solving the problem at hand, it is usually better to adopt a preference for simpler solutions in meeting challenges.*