100 ways of solving a problem

Part of my daily routine is to listen to podcasts – when I’m walking to lunch, or in transit without a seat, I usually open up Stitcher and load up my podcast list.  At the top of that list nowadays is Stanford’s Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders series.  If you’re interested in starting your own business, or in high tech startups more generally, this podcast is a must listen.  Every week or so, this program brings in either a successful founder, executive, or investor in high tech related businesses to spend an hour sharing their story, lessons learned, and answer questions; guests have ranged from Ben Horowitz of Opsware and Andreesen Horowitz fame, through to Sal Khan of Khan Academy.

While ETL is a treasure trove of interesting lessons, one of the most interesting exercises was the idea of generating 100 ways to solve a problem, featured in Tina Seelig’s talk. What’s so brilliant about this is that it forces a deep understanding of both the problem, the mechanisms that cause it, and all of the levers one might pull to create change.  All of the simple answers and platitudes (which likely haven’t been implemented for a good reason), melt away in the face of the sheer volume and depth required to generate 100 different solutions.  This approach also forces orthogonal thinking, which leads to the kinds of disruptive innovations we all chase (along with many bad ideas).  The exercise achieves many of the same ends as Google’s 10x philosophy  – avoiding incrementalism, and being willing to reimagine the entire thing from the ground up, but provides a system to help spark the necessary frame of mind.  Definitely something I want to store away for future use.

Any other ETL listeners out there?  Would love to hear your thoughts on your favorite episodes.  If not, let me know what some of your favorite problem solving techniques are.