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  • Adam Behringer

    Seattle, Washington USA

    Adam is the founder of BEEDOCS, an artisan software company that makes great timeline software for Mac OS X.

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The Elegant Solution - Book Review

Saturday, March 24, 2007

We satisfice. Satisfy plus suffice, which is to say good enough. It's a term economist and Nobel Laureate Herbert A. Simon coined in his 1957 Models of Man to describe the typical human decision-making process by which we go with the first option that offers an acceptable payoff. We'll take whatever seems to meet the bare minimum requirement to achieve the goal. Then we stop looking for the best way to solve the problem. That flies in the face of ingenuity and the pursuit of perfection. In the end, it's selfish, because the customer loses.

- The Elegant Solution: Toyota's Formula for Mastering Innovation

I just finished enjoying Matthew May's book on innovation and the pursuit of perfection. If you resonate with the quote I listed above, you will probably enjoy the book too.

Here are a few tidbits that made me think (in my own words):

  • Discipline and Creativity are partners, not enemies.
  • Force an elegant solution by using paradox in your design goals (for example, in next version of Bee Docs' Timeline, I am trying to find a design that adds more features, while making it even easier for beginners to use).
  • Contrary to many urban legends, constant baby steps are almost always the path to breakthrough, not radical new ideas.
  • Build tomorrow's solutions to today's problems. There are enough problems in the world, we don't need to build products or businesses that are built around future or speculative problems.
  • True innovation leverages every single person in a company. Not just a design guru, or a visionary CEO.
  • Reflection is necessary for learning, and is not well practiced in western cultures (or dot-com cultures I would add).

Good stuff, I say. Give it a read and use the comments to let me know what you think of the book.

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Blogger Dan O'DonnellMarch 26, 2007 8:17 PM

Good to see you posting again.

And while I completely agree that more progress is made in small incremental steps, there seems to be something in the human psyche that wants to may the big leap forward. (Look at how many people play the lottery, or how popular the home run hitter is over the guy with the big on-base percentage.)

Blogger UnknownMay 15, 2007 12:11 PM

I just have to comment here because Dan did.

Blogger SteveJuly 13, 2007 10:27 AM

Adam, I found you googling because I couldn't remember the word 'satisfice' (compromise Herbert Simon perfection) and found this post.

I don't disagree with your points, but I think one has to step back and say "it all depends." Satisficing makes sense for issues where perfection wouldn't necessarily make things better. You're busy working on something but you get hungry and need a quick bite. You don't need to find the perfect meal. You just need to find something good enough so you can fill your stomach and get back to what you were doing. Simon was saying that a lot of decisions are appropriately made that way in organizations.

At other times, say when setting up a system that is going to be used over and over again by lots of people, pushing for perfection makes more sense.

But all these 'truisms' are only true in the write context. "Constant baby steps are almost always the path to breakthrough, not radical new ideas." Well, yes and no. The true radical ideas are probably 'aha' moments when you see things in a way that is completely different from how people have seen the same situation. They come in a flash, a dream. But you probably got there by small steps working out a problem, thinking about the situation, so that your brain is subconsciously working on it and when the breakthrough new idea comes, you're ready to see its significance. And then you have to do the slow plodding steps to apply that insight to a workable application.

Take care,


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