Simple Solutions to Complex Problems

Simple Solutions to Complex ProblemsThere’s a story I heard, it may be apocryphal, but even if it is, it serves my purpose in introducing my thought.

A huge U.S corporate giant built a new high rise headquarters. A month or so after the headquarters was fully occupied, the employees began to complain about the slowness of the elevators. Soon, the complaints were so rife that the management spoke to the architects of the building for a solution. The architects were asked if the elevators can be made to move faster or the size of elevators be increased. The architects were quick to respond saying it is possible to increase the size of elevators but it would involve months of work demolishing, extending and reconstructing around the elevators shafts. The noise and commotion surrounding such a task would be highly disruptive to all the employees.

The story goes on to say that the corporation did nothing to the elevator shafts. Instead, full length mirrors on every floor were placed beside the elevator doors and on the inside-walls of the elevators. The employees spent an extra few moments grooming themselves and looking at one another in the mirrors and the complaints faded.

My point is, almost every problem (not all) has a simple solution to it.  I concede that there are a few things that are not simple. For example rescuing people in a building that is engulfed in fire. It involves a lot of coordination, resources, courage and competency of a big team of rescue-workers. But fire-fighting is not a daily affair, or is it? Our day-to-day problems that we face at work or at home are, in reality, simple. Many a time we look for complex solutions when simple ones would be easy to find, easy to implement and appropriate to the problem. Here are few things I suggest that should help you in becoming better problem solvers.

  • The problem should be described in not more than 25 to 30 words
  • Ask simple questions – who, why, what, where, when, how
  • Expect simple answers
  • The solutions should be described in not more than 25 to 30 words and in 30 seconds or less.
  • If your solution is way too complex, please ask yourself if there is a simpler way.
  • Check if you made any unnecessary assumptions about the problem and allow lateral thinking to give you simple answers


Most problems can be solved if we use simple logical thinking. Our mind has the ability to search for simple answers to seemingly complex problems. Instead of getting lost in the details and complexity of the issue, let us stay focused on the most important part – the solution.

“You don’t drown by falling in water; you drown by staying in there” – Edwin Louis Cole

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