Alternative Solutions



"You could have paid all of the world’s top male and female supermodels to walk up and down the train handing out free Château Pétrus to all the passengers. You’d still have £5bn in change and people would ask for the trains to be slowed down."

The inimitable Rory Sutherland in his TEDxAthens talk from 2011 [watch it here] describes an alternative to investing £6bn to reduce the journey time on the Eurostar between Paris and London by 40 minutes. He gives it as an example of solving a problem psychologically, rather than taking the ‘default’ technical engineering approach and just assuming everyone wants to get there faster.

It reminds me of a conversation I once had with the CEO of a leisure trust about their summer holiday playschemes...

In an attempt to reduce incidences of antisocial behaviour by bored school children in the summer holidays, the local council cabinet had approved some last-minute funding for the sports and leisure trust to put on a summer-long programme of daytime activities. He told me he and his team had spent the previous couple of weeks flat-out pulling together last-minute plans.

“We gave them the second most effective solution.” He said.

Of course, a statement like that piqued my curiosity.

“Why just the second most effective solution?” I asked. “Why not the most effective one?”

He answered, “The most effective one would be to give the kids £1000 each and tell them to p**s off somewhere else for the summer. So we settled on the second most effective one.”

Both stories above made me laugh. Both had a point. Neither would have been a publicly acceptable use of public funds but they were both great examples of thinking differently about problems they faced.

What big problems are you trying to solve? Are you taking the expected, predictable and automatic approach to solving them? Is there another approach you can take that still meets what your customers want? (An acceptable one of course.)