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. Management quickly isolated the problem to the assembly line, which transported all the packaged boxes of soap to the delivery department. For some reason, one soapbox went through the assembly line empty.
Management asked its engineers to solve the problem. 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 they were not empty. No doubt, they worked hard and they worked fast but they spent a whopping amount to do so.
Keep it simple
But when a rank-and-file employee in a small company was posed with the same problem, he didn’t get into elaborate plans. Instead he came out with a much 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 by, it simply blew the empty boxes off the line.
Here’s another great example. When NASA began launching astronauts into space, they found out that pens wouldn’t work at zero gravity, as the ink doesn’t flow down to the writing surface. In order to solve this problem, it took them ten years and $12 million.
NASA engineers developed a pen that worked at zero gravity, upside down, underwater, on practically any surface including crystal and in a temperature range from below freezing to over 300 degrees Celsius.
What did the Russians do? They used a pencil!
Good management is the art of making problems so interesting and their solutions so constructive that everyone wants to get to work and deal with them. ~ Paul Hawken
Whenever you face a challenge or a problem in your business or personal life, you have an important choice to make:
Problem or Solution
Focusing on the problem rarely helps matters. Instead, it only wastes your time and energy as you go over it repeatedly in your mind. Such brooding can leave you exhausted from fear and worry and prevent you from taking decisive action. Your problem is a reality that is unlikely to go away no matter how hard you ruminate. Since that’s the case, it’s better (and way more productive) to focus on the solution instead.
Your mind can only give its full attention to one thing at a time. If you focus on the problem, negative thoughts can overtake you more readily. Fear, self-doubt and worry may prevent you from moving forward and dealing with the issue at hand. The more you brood, the larger your problem becomes in your mind.
But if you focus on the solution, you actively engage your mind in resolving the matter. As a result, you have little time for negative thinking. The only thing that matters is resolving the problem.
In business and in life, problems don’t resolve themselves. And it’s unwise to expect others to solve them for you. As a business owner, the responsibility for finding a solution falls on you. When you take charge of dealing with a problem, you can choose the best way to resolve it. This means you are more likely to get the outcome you want as you influence events with your actions and choices.
Problems = Opportunities
Finally, each time you resolve a problem, you gain valuable experience. The more problems you resolve, the more confidence you have. Soon, a problem that used to intimidate you loses its power because you know how to deal with it. Moving forward, it will take greater problems to test your limits. But greater problems should not daunt you either. After all, you have new experience to guide you in finding solutions to go to the next level.
Learning to focus on the solution and not the problem can change your life and your business. Successful people understand this principle. Don’t let your problems overwhelm you. Learn to focus on the solutions instead, and use your time and energy more productively.
Ask yourself: “When faced with a problem in my life or business, do I focus on the problem, or on the solution?”
You’ve just read the third in a six part series on the characteristics of successful people. If you’d like to read more, the next article is called Successful People Make Things Happen or you can jump to any of the articles from the list below.
Successful People Have Six Things in Common
1. Successful People Take Risks
2. Successful People Have Vision
3. Successful People Focus on Solutions
4. Successful People Make Things Happen
5. Successful People Go Above and Beyond
6. Successful People Embrace Change