Sunday, July 10, 2016


For those who missed the memo [New Scientist magazine] during the 1980's, solutioneering is not a good thing it is a bad thing.

Solutioneering is not problem solving, it is not design. Solutioneering is having a solution and applying it to every problem which encounter, or applying it where there is no problem at all.

I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail. [Abraham H. Maslow (1962), Toward a Psychology of Being]

Most engineers are not problem solvers, despite what they as a community may promote. They are solutioneers, they don't solve the real problem they apply the technological solutions they have in their toolbox.

For example if have a river to cross. The civil engineer is most likely to put a tunnel under the river. The structural engineer a bridge over the river. The mechanical engineer a cable car. The naval architect set up a ferry boat. The aeronautical engineer provide a ferry service using an helicopter. Whilst an aeromarine engineer a ferry service using hovercraft.

Whilst all of these technologies get from one side of the river to the other, they do not tackle the actual problem which gives rise to the need or most likely desire to get from one side of the river to the other. To solve the real problem all of these technologies along with new technologies need to be assessed for suitability. When assessing the suitability both the advantages and disadvantages along with negative side effects need to be considered.

Situations identified as solutioneering include mandatory seat belts, mandatory bicycle helmets, mandatory smoke alarms, mandatory residual current devices (RSD's). The technologies themselves are not solutioneering, its the way the technology is applied and/or imposed that is solutioneering. These technologies were made mandatory in Australia largely because the need is relatively low: the vast majority of the population, the vast majority of the time, will never experience a situation which would make these technologies useful. Those few people who want such technology would not have been able to afford to buy such technology, therefore to increase the market and lower the price,  the technology was imposed on everyone. In these situations fear was and is used to convince  people that they need the technology and further that they would be irresponsible if they don't use.

Bicycle helmets for example do not protect cyclists from breaking their collar bones: shoulders will typically hit the ground before a persons head. Bicycle helmets don't protect cyclists from being crushed by a car. Kids experience head injuries when they fall off bikes or in general play. Bicycle helmets were made mandatory on basis adults should set example for kids and to increase the market. The market increase is largely nonsense as helmets have to be the correct size and growing kids will need to change their helmets. Helmets however are not necessarily safe, check the product safety site, the helmets are now being worn for general protection from head injuries but the helmets are the hazard, now resulting in deaths. Having a kid wear a helmet, is not going to protect the kid from falling off the edge of the elevated decking; a decking which is less than 1 m high and therefore doesn't need a guardrail. Another example is a swimming pool fence merely compliant with the swimming pool fence code will place an obstruction to free movement of people which will be a hazard since it does not comply with the loading requirements fro barriers. The swimming pool fence code only provides strength requirements to keep kids from tampering with the fence so as to get pass the fence. It doesn't provide adequate loading for adults at a backyard party from leaning against the fence and pushing it over: and certainly not suitable for fences at a marine park with an audience.

A more current situation is the internet of things. Whilst connecting something to the internet is possible, it doesn't mean it should be done. Doing something because you can doesn't mean you should. To start with main frame computers posed a whole host of problems, many of which were resolved by microcomputers and personal computers: putting everything into the cloud brings many of those problems back.

Now most of the time people don't want to waste time finding solutions to problems, their general preference is to go into a supermarket and find a suitable solution sitting there on the shelf. The solution sat on the shelf may not solve all their problems, or fully resolve a problem, but it will provide just enough capability to be useful for the time being. As I have mentioned in other posts, once a product is released to the market it will be used for purposes beyond the intents of the designer. A product is merely raw material and it is the responsibility of the end-user to determine its suitability for their purposes: it should not be the responsibility of the designer to consider every possible use and misuse.

Supplying solutions is not the issue. Every manufacturer and retailer supplies off-the-shelf solutions. The problem of solutioneering is applying the available solutions in an improper manner to inappropriate problems.

So promoting your business on the basis of providing solutions not product, informs me that you don't know your knee from your elbow. That you do not know how to solve problems as you have merely implemented some new age marketing hype.

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[10/7/2016] : Original