How to Solve Impossible Problems

December 29, 2006 · Posted in innovation, Intellectual Property, problem solving 

I love impossible problems. Am I insane? That is hotly debated. But the reason I love impossible problems is there are so many possible innovations in every impossible problem. In fact there are at least 225 possible solutions to most seemingly impossible problems.

That’s a lot of innovation.

Very little is truly impossible. Most seemingly impossible problems result from assumptions that hide the solutions. The typical impossible problem is the result of two competing goals. If you improve one feature the other suffers. The goals compete. You want to improve both but can’t so it seems impossible.

How do you solve impossible problems? Break the problem in two and solve each part separately.

For instance electric vehicles solve a lot of problems. Electric cars are very efficient and don’t produce any point of use toxic emissions. The problem with electric cars is they can’t drive very far on a single charge.

Even with a lot of improvements in battery technology electric cars just haven’t gained the type of range most people would like. Recharging takes a long time so an electric car isn’t good for long trips.

How do we solve it? Break the problem in two and solve separately.

The goals are low point of use toxic emissions, and long range. If we break out long range we can solve that a number of ways.

Gasoline or diesel engines have great range and if you run out of fuel you can quickly fill up and be on your way. And it is possible to use other fuels such as alcohol and propane. Internal combustion engines are a great solution to the problem of a long range vehicle problem.

Instead of recharging the battery, replace it with a fully charged one. If gas stations offered battery exchange you could pull in, drop off your dead battery to be charged and buy a fully charged one and be on your way. This is basically the same thing the Pony Express did with horses and riders.

A completely different approach isn’t technological. Look at how often people make long trips and how they do it. Most people plan trips that are longer than 100 miles. If that is the case they could use trains, planes, buses or rental cars.

That is three solutions to the long range vehicle problem. Using the solution grid we could quickly find 12 more but lets use one of these.

Electric cars solve the problem of point of use toxic emissions. And gasoline engines solve the long range problem. If we make a car that combines both electric motor and gasoline engine, that’s a Hybrid Electric car. The battery drives the electric motor most of the time and the engine kicks in when needed for extra power or to recharge the batteries.

With just the three solutions listed you have the next innovation. Plug the cars in when not driving. When the car is sitting for long periods, charge the battery from the power grid which is cheaper than gasoline. This has a potential side benefit of being a generator if needed.

There are hundreds of solutions for low point of use toxic emission transportation with long range capability. If you remember to focus on the desired result rather than the method, a world of possibilities open up.

I said there are at least 225 solutions. Using an OutCompete solution grid we know there are at least 15 ways to achieve any goal. Breaking the problem in two creates two solution grids.

15 x 15 = 225

That is 225 solutions for what was a seemingly impossible problem.

Action Items

  • List 2-3 impossible problems you are facing right now.
  • Estimate the value of solving one or all of those impossible problems.
  • Describe the individual goals.
  • List a few solutions to each goal.
  • Find a combination of solutions that work.

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