There are many approaches to problem solving, but the one we like best requires a multifaceted view of the situation. Sometimes the key to the solution is in the best definition of the problem. Having just one point of view, or relying on your initial impression, can actually blind you to the solution.
The ideal solution is more likely achieved when the problem is viewed in the context of the bigger picture. For instance, many times we found solutions that solved more than the one problem that we were originally focused on. After this happened time after time, we decided to deconstruct this phenomenon. Instead of working forwards, we worked backwards. We started by imagining the problem as already solved, and asked ourselves what other issues would be improved if the original problem was solved.
We once received a recorded message on our 800 number from a concerned customer. She wanted to know, “Why can’t I get a full measure when I buy your wine? All the fill lines are at different levels; some are high and some are low!” When we played the recording for our production people, they said, “Well, of course the fill lines are different. For one thing, you need an air gap so the wine can expand with the varying temperature and barometric pressure, and for another you need space to add the nitrogen so the wine won’t oxidize. And besides, all the other wines have the same problem!”
With our motto,“the customer is always right,” we called her back and said, “Of course you deserve a full measure! Thanks for bringing this to our attention. We are working on solving this problem right now!”
Later that week we were at a fundraiser and Bonnie commented on how much she liked a particular woman’s outfit. She said, “I really like that midi-length skirt.” Michael said, “Is it the color or fabric, the style or what?” “No,” she said, “I like that it covers the knees which better shows off the calves of her legs!” Michael retorted, “Covers the knees! That’s it! We’ll cover the fill line with a longer closure!”
It seemed simple enough. No matter what the temperature or atmospheric pressure, with a longer closure (or “foil”), the fill line would be covered. It took over two years to get the mechanical technology working properly to actually do it effectively on the bottling line. But, voila! No fill line visible! The customer always get a “full measure.”
Interestingly, another problem was solved in the process. Now that the fill line was no longer visible, we reduced the number of horizontal lines on our wine package that had rather chopped it up. This gave our product a cleaner look than the other brands on the retail shelf vying for the consumer’s attention. All of a sudden, our package looked distinctive, as it did not have the choppy lines that all the other wines had.
We appreciated the comments of the “complaining” customer. We knew that for every one person who complained there were hundreds who wouldn’t take the time to voice their concerns. She made us aware of the perception that the fills were not consistent. So we committed ourselves to “fixing” it, and in the process, improved not just our packaging image, but our marketing image as well.
We also believed there was a solution, and studied the problem from all sides. Once we saw all the parts, we waited for the inspiration we believed would come, even from the most unlikely places.