Innovation Blog


Elegant Solution Thinking and Theory U

  • Jun 25, 2013
  • By Business Consultants, inc.
  • 1 タグ

Elegant Solution Thinking and Theory UFor the past 60 years we’ve settled for terrible statistics in fighting pancreatic cancer. The test is so expensive that doctors only administer it when they’re fairly certain the patient is affected by the disease. In 85% of cases this leaves the patient with a 2% chance of survival due to late diagnosis and confirmation. It took the innovation of 15 year old high school student Jack Andraka, to come up with an elegant solution to this complex problem. He created a dipstick-style test made out of a paper sensor that costs approximately 26,000 times less than the current test, and is over 90 percent accurate. Jack saw a complex problem, and then formulated an elegant solution.


What are the principles of an elegant solution?

  • It is self-explanatory.
  • It solves more problems than it creates.
  • Ingenuity. Consider the problem from a unique angle and arrives at a simple solution.

How can you come up with an elegant solution?
Getting an elegant solution from a complex problem can be difficult. Here is a thought strategy to help you come up with elegant solutions, either by yourself or in a group.

Theory U
The concept of Theory U was created by Otto Scharmer. It is built on the idea that we need to be learning from the future as it emerges, a concept called presencing (“presence” and “sensing”). In order for presencing to happen, you must have an Open Mind (suspend judgment and see everything with new eyes), Open Heart (use your heart to see with love and emotion) and Open Will (the ability to let go of old ideas and embrace the new). Once you’ve let go of patterns from the past, and seen and sensed the problem with fresh eyes, you will be presencing. New ideas will have been allowed through; the new vision will crystalize and you’ll move on to the enacting and embodying of new solutions.

When you consider Theory U, is it any wonder that it took a teenager to finally improve testing for pancreatic cancer? A 15 year old has far fewer past patterns to let go of, he has far less self doubt, and far greater access to creativity than his older medical counterparts. Jack Andraka saw a problem and believed he could fix it. He was young and optimistic; he didn’t let small problems stand in his way, and he kept his mind, heart and will open as he reached his solution. His pattern of positive thinking paved the way to enacting his plan.

Divergent thinking
This thinking pattern allows individuals or groups to reach unique solutions which could otherwise have been overlooked.

  • Start
    by acknowledging that the original solution is inelegant and should not be considered.
  • Identify
    desired end result and what possible results could look like.
  • Work
    backwards from identified end results to determine feasibility.

For example: millions of Filipinos currently live in shantytowns without affordable access to electricity. Their houses are constructed of corrugated steel roofs and concrete walls which don’t allow natural light in, and whole families live in darkness. Rather than trying to replace the existing roofs, or running electrical infrastructure to the impoverished inhabitants,  students at MIT came up with an elegant solution. They cut a small hole in the roof of each dwelling and inserted a one liter plastic bottle filled with bleach water. The bleach keeps the water clean, and the plastic refracts the natural light so effectively that just one of these bottles is the equivalent of a 55-watt bulb. They last up to five years and can be installed in less than one hour.

  • Is the solution easily stated? Yes.
  • Does it solve more problems than it creates? Yes (it even uses recycled materials, solving a secondary problem). Did it require creative thought beyond common sense? Yes.

Now that’s elegant.

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