Why Solutions are Well Articulated Problems

Tackling climate change is a challenging, requiring world-class engineers and scientists. Like many problems, it also requires us to adopt systems thinking due to its interconnected components.

To design a method to solve a problem, we need to visualise the solution and the steps that will get us there. The common pitfall is often the inability to see a connected path. It is not the lack of knowledge, expertise or experience with solving problems – we have a lot of people that can solve challenges given technical guidance.

When a client states their problem, we need to first define it in detail. The solution needs to tick as many ‘pain reliever’ boxes as possible. Can we categorise, or generalise, the most important elements of the problem? If so, we can then reverse engineer some problems by stepping backward to the cause.

One technique used to isolate the cause of a problem is the ‘Five Whys?‘, called deductive reasoning.

Here’s one example.

#1 Why are trains late? The train operator will tell us that it is because the train in front was a delayed service. The one in front was delayed because of a train leaving late from the station. #2 Why? A large number of passengers were leaving a football match at 3pm on Saturday. #3 Why did this delay the train? The train conductor could not close the doors on the train. #4 Why not? The train only had 2 carriages that could not cope with the capacity of the crowd. #5 Why? Our train network is over-crowded and the infrastructure can not cope at peak times.

The solution – build more platforms to cope with bottle-necks in the rail network to allow more trains to ‘flow’ through the stations at peak times, or investment in alternative transport networks.

Once the route cause of problems are identified, the solution can be much more clear. It’s not always obvious without understanding the interconnections of the main parts of a system.