Eureka Moments

Yesterday I had one of those rare days when I learnt something life-changing. A day I believe I will look back on as being pivotal in our journey to build Valentte into a great company. As regular readers will know I have started listening to audio books rather than reading them.

I use Audible and listen at 1.75 x speed. I’m a huge fan and recommend it with all my heart. If you want to learn, if you believe the path to your goals and dreams is with personal growth and learning, then download Audible and start listening. I promise you won’t regret it!

Back to yesterday! I was listening to “Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed”, it’s a powerful book about the way individuals and organisations respond to failure. Do they cover up mistakes and punish those responsible or do they embrace failure and see it as a learning opportunity? It charts a course from medical errors, and aeroplane crashes through to Formula One, Dyson and British Cycling with their “marginal-gains strategy.”

I have always believed that the best products were born out of some new, great and deep insight, usually by technically gifted people. This book threw that assumption out of the window.

Are you busy creating something new? Are you working on a project that requires you to think beyond normal? Do you need to improve something as the current solution keeps breaking or isn’t working very well?

“Black Box Thinking” advocates a strategy of blind testing ideas against each other like a random blind drugs trial. So, instead of racking your brains trying to come up with the perfect solution, which is hard if not impossible and will likely end in failure.

You should continuously iterate from your current starting point. In the book, they give the example of Unilever who have a problem with the machine that makes their washing powders. The machine has a nozzle that keeps clogging, produces a variable product and has constant downtime because of these faults.

Unilever first brings in a team of “fluid dynamics” engineers who work on finding the perfect solution to the problem. Analysing and examining the system to death, after many months of work they fail to produce a better nozzle.

Next Unilever brings in a new team of non-engineers; their strategy is entirely different. They take the current nozzle and create nine additional nozzles that each vary slightly from the first. No particular thought is given to the variations; they just need to be different from the first. They then test the ten nozzles.

The results show one nozzle is slightly better than the others. So, they discard the other 9 and using this new nozzle as the starting point, create nine more variations of this slightly better nozzle. Again, they test the ten nozzles. One of these is slightly better. So again, they iterate on this slightly better one and so on. They repeat this process, iterating 46 times.

They finish with the most incredible efficient nozzle, that is many times better than the original. They do this without any of the skills or technical knowledge of the fluid dynamics engineers.

This process is a powerful example of how we can create better products, better systems, better companies, live better lives. If we seek to improve on what we have by running blind tests that compare one version with another and then repeat these tests over many days, week, months and years then we move to ownership of great and market leading products.

This strategy forces us to embrace and accept failure helping us build a completely different relationship with it. Rather than seeing failure as a bad thing, it becomes a clear stepping stone to a better product as it allows us to demonstrate that one solution is better than another. Our test has produced a solid outcome.

This method doesn’t require any great insight, skill or training. You simply need the commitment to test one version against another and then the confidence to accept the results as they are rather than as you though they might be, or perhaps hoped they would be!

I cannot wait to implement this inside Valentte. I hope that you will give it a go too. Creating amazing things is a process you can master. Long before others believe, you must believe it’s possible.

Remember, we climb the mountain, not in giant leaps but one small step at a time.

2 thoughts on “Eureka Moments”

  1. Luke, I was very interested to read today’s blog, not that they are not all interesting mind you! Your example of the different approaches made by Unilever to resolve the “nozzle issue” struck a chord with me. Throughout my working life, I have witnessed many attempts that companies make…first ‘automatically’ bringing in the experts. So often though, the issue is not solved by this approach! It is very easy to understand why people do this, after all, it makes sense doesn’t it…?!

    However, so often a different approach is more successful, ‘fresh eyes’ viewing the scene. The ‘fresh eyes’ will not have all the vested interests that the experts have and can, therefore, put a totally different perspective on the issue or problem.

    Experts always have ‘vested interests’ don’t they? They have studied whatever it is for many years, have worked hard to become qualified, have their reputations to consider…Now I am not suggesting that expertise is not valuable, of course it is. However, I would recommend that we all look for different and diverse methods to solve our problems. Perhaps, even consider listening to our gut?!

    • Hi Jennifer

      Thank you for your insightful comment. I agree wholeheartedly about the advantages of fresh eyes on a problem.

      I find that when stressed or under a lot of pressure my decisions and problem-solving skills are at their worst. At the very moment when we need the most clarity is the very moment that it eludes me! I’m going to remember your comment as it is during these times that I think it is most important to bring in a fresh set of eyes to think through the problem.

      Thank you for your comment

      Luke x


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