The Power of Unlocking Alternative Solutions

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I spent today working on some home-improvement projects, mostly involving locks and metal fitting of various types. At one point at dragon fly landed and I caught the above shot. The dragonfly was very patient.

Anyway, today reminded me how important it is to be open to alternative solutions that are not what you planned. For one project, I had a five-inch machine screw, but needed another one in order to connect two pieces of metal. The Ace Hardware down the street had stopped carrying them, and a bigger local hardware store suggested I’d have to go to a specialty store fifteen minutes away to find one.

Sometime this afternoon, it struck me that instead I could use shorter four-inch screws if I also switched to using shorter pipe segments to thread the screws through (both easily available). This worked perfectly, and took me down an easier path which didn’t involve running all over trying to find the exact five inch screw.

If you’re creating things, you’re always unlocking alternative paths, swapping out too-tough problems for more solvable ones, keeping your eye on the outcome vs a specific route to get there. This is the essence of being an entrepreneur.

When I was running Quizlet this happened constantly, and we ended up better for it. For example, recruiting a full time iOS developer was too hard for us in 2012. So we switched to solving a different problem: arranging a summer internship for a 14 year old whiz kid who could build a starter app for us in a few weeks. Not only was this solvable (after negotiating with his divorced parents, who weren’t speaking to each other), but it turned out better, because the kid was way more tuned in our users than a 20-something coder would have been.

Most of the people in tech right now – unfortunately I think – are too focused on the Silicon Valley formula, or ‘the way you’re supposed to do things’  because everyone else does it that way.

Openness to alternative solutions, and seeking them out, is an instinct worth trying to develop in business. It doesn’t hurt in life, either.

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