Problem Solving 2: So Crazy it Might Just Work

How do you develop possible solutions?

This video focuses on the second step of the problem solving process – how to develop alternative solutions.

We start with a fun look at how two seemingly crazy ideas actually solved difficult problems.  Then we watch a brainstorming session, and break down how you can lead one to generate some great ideas of your own.

Watch the video, or read the transcript below and soon you’ll be coming up with your own crazy solutions that just might work.



A Crazy Solution That Worked

In the 1990s an un-named airport in Texas was getting swamped with complaint after complaint about the amount of time that arriving passengers had to wait at the baggage terminal before their bags finally appeared.

This had been an ongoing problem for several years, and airport management had tried everything to solve the problem.  Their actions even included hiring additional staff, which brought the total wait time down to the industry standard of eight minutes, but the complaints didn’t end.

The way they solved their problem may surprise you, and it can also serve as a good example of how seemingly crazy ideas can actually turn in to effective solutions.

What was their answer to the problem?  They moved baggage claim farther away from the gate and made passengers walk farther to get there!

To solve their problem, airport management decided to take a look at it from the traveler’s perspective.  Since the gate was close to baggage claim, it only took passengers one minute to walk there; then they spent the next seven minutes waiting around for their bags.

The airport had already done everything they could to get the luggage delivered as fast as possible, so that left them one other option:  make it take longer for the traveler to get to baggage claim.

After moving baggage claim , the passengers had to walk a total six or seven minutes instead of just one, but as a result, once they got there they only had to wait about a minute for their luggage to appear.  Management had slashed wait time at baggage claim by 6 minutes, and believe it or not, the complaints disappeared!

So there you have it – a true account of a very creative way to solve a problem.  And it worked!  But why?  Since airport management had framed the problem correctly, they were able to find an effective, if unexpected and unorthodox solution, no matter how counter-intuitive it might at first seem.


The output of the first step of the Problem Solving Process is a Problem Statement.  You use that Problem Statement in this second step to help focus your efforts on identifying Alternative Solutions.  Being able to think creatively to come up with a variety of ideas is a critical component of this step

There are lots of ways to do this, but they all seem to boil down to the concept of brain storming.  In a focused effort, your group develops a large volume of ideas to solve the problem, then you narrow the list to a few top candidates to take a closer look at.

Traditionally, you can do brain storming as a group, with 8-12 people being the optimal number of participants; the more diverse the group, the better, since each member will be able to add his unique perspective.

Maybe the best way to describe a brainstorming session is to watch one in action….this is the way one such session might have gone…about 3,000 years before anyone invented the term Brainstorm….

Another Crazy Idea

[fade to desert shot, outskirts of Troy, Odysseus gathers some of his men]

Odysseus: OK, guys, you all know why we are here.  We’ve been trying to capture Troy for 10 years now and we can’t get it done.  We need some more ideas.  Anticlus – you are going to be our recorder – since they haven’t invented projectors yet, how about just use that easel over there, ok?  Write down all the ideas you hear.

Anticlus:  Got it, boss!

O:  OK, I’ll facilitate.  You’ve all had some to think about this now, so give me some thoughts on how we are going to capture Troy with this army as soon as possible.  We need to come up with at least five new ideas…

Diomedes:  How about we assault the walls again  [murmers of disapproval from the others…]

O: easy guys, remember, this is a no-judgment zone….

E:  OH, OK well what if we attck at night? [sounds of approval from others]

D: OK, we could do that, and maybe dig a tunnel under the city [more approving murmers]

O: All right!   Good one; Anticlus – you getting all this down?

A:  Yup!

O:  OK, more ideas?  [crickets]

O: Hmm, looks like we’ve run out of ideas.  Time to change up the thinking; let’s try the opposite – how do we capture Troy by Not attacking?

D:  We… run away?

A:  And burn our tents like we’re quitting and going home?…

D:  Ya, ya, and then they’ll open the gates to see where we went…

A: but we’re not there because we sailed away…

E:  Oh, Oh, and when they open the gates, there could be this giant wolverine that we build and leave for them like a gift, and there will be men inside and when they take it into the city, after dark they will sneak out and open the city gates

D:  Right, right, and then our army sails back at night and attacks when our guys open the gates.

O:  Yes, I can see where this is going….and what if the wolverine were a giant horse???…..

[murmer …ya, that sounds totally feasible…..]

[Scene fade back to narrator]

How to Brainstorm

OK so there you have it – brainstorming in the ancient world – notice they had a dedicated meeting focused on generating some ideas, and they were free of most distractions.  Having a recorder and using some sort of large display like a chalk board, white board, flip chart, or projector is a good way to make the ideas visible.

Creativity grows best in an open, warm, supportive environment, and even though the metaphor might be a little corny, it’s not too different from new plants in a garden – give them some sunshine and nourishment and they can flourish, but a harsh environment can kill them quickly, so it’s a good idea to set some ground rules up front before the discussion begins.

1.  No criticism is allowed, no matter how odd or unusual a proposal may be.  The idea is to encourage creative thinking; any judging will kill that vibe and ruin your session.

2.  Encourage crazy ideas, the wilder, the better; take ideas to their extremes, ….

3.  It’s about quantity, not quality at this stage.  The more ideas you have to choose from, the better

4.  Try to build on ideas voiced by others.  A good way to respond to someone’s idea is to say, “Yes, and…” – it’s affirmative and supporting, and your follow-on statement allows the idea to grow.  Responding with a “No” or a “but…” doesn’t help the focus of the group.

5.  Every person and idea has equal worth.  Make an effort to ensure all have a chance to be heard.   The loudest person in the room doesn’t always have the best ideas.

The whole meeting can be one chaotic session – and some chaos is good, but the moderator should try to keep the group on track, follow an idea train for a little while, then try something else.

As each idea surfaces, have the recorder write it down for all to see and consider – it will stimulate their thinking and generate additional ideas.  Encourage members to shout out their ideas, and remember, laughing is encouraged, criticism is not.

Sketch the Alternatives

Once you are done, as a group, pick the 3-5 best ideas.  These are the ones you can develop for further consideration.  Think about how you might actually implement these ideas, and jot down what each might need in terms of resources, manpower, and time.  This will help you when you get into the next step, Deciding upon the best of these alternatives.

Brainstorming Ideas – The Takeaway

Generating a wide variety of alternative solutions to a problem requires the right environment for  creative ideas to grow.  If you are intentional about giving them that place to grow then you will find your garden rich with possibilities and the fruit of your labor will be ready for Step 3:  Making a Decision.

Thanks for watching.

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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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