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Solve problems the way they want to be solved

via flickr user origamijoel

Most folks have a preferred problem solving method. Some know this, and stick to those well worn forumulas. Some don’t, or forget, or let the fear of missing out trick them into going after opportunities they shouldn’t. One of the keys to successful problem solving is to understand your natural approach and when that approach does or doesn’t fit the problem you are considering addressing.

Let’s look at Apple Maps as an example. With almost unlimited resources and skilled/motivated workers why couldn’t Apple seem to make Maps just work? I believe the primary reason is that their culture doesn’t value the type of work it takes to create a killer solution to that problem. Apple is very good at giving designers time and space to come up with brilliantly innovative solutions to problems. Elegant solutions are coveted. Wherever possible a solution is simplified rather than made more complex.

Unfortunately Mapping is not a simple problem, nor is it one that can be reduced. (see the traveling salesman problem) Instead of one single elegant solution to a large problem, mapping requires many small imperfect solutions. Google is willing to embark on a massive, inelegant solution to a complicated problem. (Remember their company was founded on the premise of “downloading the internet” so you could easily search it)

Finding point A on a map and getting directions from point A to point B doesn’t need to be perfect or elegant, it just needs to work. Apple as an organization has never been satisfied with making something just work (ironic given some of their historical marketing efforts). Unfortunately the solution to make maps “just work” is to add a parenthetical “even if it’s inelegant like driving around taking pictures of every street in the world” to the solution.

The reason that Apple isn’t able to create a successful mapping product is because their culture won’t let them do the kind of work necessary to create a successful product.

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