The Seven Sins of Solutions

I introduced you to Matt May in January. He’s the author of The Elegant Solution and the ChangeThis manifesto called Elegant Solutions: Breakthrough Thinking the Toyota Way. He added a new manifesto called Mind of the Innovator: Taming the Traps of Traditional Thinking. Here’s an excerpt for you:

  1. Shortcutting. Leaping to solutions in an instinctive way or intuitive way—i.e. the “blink” method of problem-solving—seldom leads to an elegant solution because deeper, hidden causes don’t get addressed. Watch CSI and House: first they collect the evidence, then diagnose, and then solve. It’s never the guy or the disease you initially suspect.

  2. Blindspots. Blindspots are the umbrella term for assumptions, biases, and mindsets that we cannot see through or around. Our brain does a lot of “filling in” for us because it’s a pattern maker and recognizer. Ths cn b hrd fr ppl t cmprhnd, hwvr, mst cn ndrstntd ths sntnc wth lttl prblm. But clear thinking involves more than simply filling in spaces in words.

  3. Not Invented Here (N.I.H.). NIH means that you refuse to consider solutions that are from external sources. It means “If we didn’t come up with it, it won’t work. It is of no use.” Next time you’re waiting for an elevator, watch someone walk up and hit the button even though it’s already lit. We often don’t trust others’ solutions!

  4. Satisficing. Ever wonder why some solutions lack inspiration, imagination, and originality? It’s because by nature we satisfice—satisfy plus suffice. We glom on to what’s easy and stop looking for the optimal solution. What’s the least number of “sticks” you need to move to make this Roman numeral equation correct? XI + I = X If you answered anything but zero, you satisficed. Look at it upside down.

  5. Downgrading. Downgrading is the close cousin of satisficing but with a twist: a formal revision of the goal or situation. Reason? No one likes to fail. Result? We fall short of the killer app, so we pick the one that allows us to declare victory. Next time you’re playing hockey or football, try winning the game by hitting the outside of the post or taking the ball down to the one-yard line.

  6. Complicating. Why do we overthink, complicate, and add cost? And why do we ALL do it so intuitively, naturally, and (here’s the killer) consistently? Answer: we’re hardwired that way. Our brains are designed to drive hoarding, storing, accumulating, and collecting-type behavior. We are by nature “do more/add on” types. Don’t believe it? Watch the customers at Costco or Sam’s Club buy thirty-six rolls of toilet paper.

  7. Stifling. We do naturally do the “Yeah, but..” dance in which we stifle, dismiss, and second-guess ideas. It’s ideacide, pure and simple. And it’s not just others’ ideas we stifle; we often do it to our own and kick ourselves later when someone else “steals” our great idea. Remember how Decca Records rejected the Beatles? “Guitar bands are on the way out.”

The last one is the deadliest of the sinful seven. Because it is the most destructive. It’s the hallmark of the bozos!

By |2016-10-24T14:19:29+00:00August 8th, 2007|Categories: Innovation|17 Comments

About the Author:

Guy Kawasaki is the chief evangelist of Canva, an online graphic design tool. Formerly, he was an advisor to the Motorola business unit of Google and chief evangelist of Apple. He is also the author of The Art of Social Media, The Art of the Start, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, Enchantment, and nine other books. Kawasaki has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College.


  1. Meltin' Posts August 8, 2007 at 12:01 pm - Reply

    Traps of traditionalthinking

    Guy Kawasakis latest post points out a very interesting manifesto by Matt May (author of The elegant solution, which is going right away in my amazon wishlist), called Mind of the Innovator: Taming the Traps of Traditional Thinkin…

  2. Mike Sporer August 8, 2007 at 1:19 pm - Reply

    I’ve been waiting for this manifesto. Matt does an excellent job of framing innovation. There are not shortcuts, plain and simple. Matt May gets it, and his words are well chosen and communicative. Great stuff!

  3. Frank San Miguel August 8, 2007 at 1:44 pm - Reply

    Thanks Guy. I too believe that there are concrete actions that we can take to improve our creative output.
    I’d be interested to know what you think about Marc Andressen’s recent post about Age and Entrepreneurship. Among his many observations is the startling statement that “…Quality of output does not vary by age… which means, of course, that attempting to improve your batting average of hits versus misses is a waste of time as you progress through a creative career. “
    I think there are three good reasons to disagree with this.

  4. The Agitator August 8, 2007 at 3:04 pm - Reply


    Guy Kawasaki, original marketer of the Mac, is my favorite collector of thinking about innovation and innovators.In this post, he’s relayed the seven sins of solutions as articulated by Matt May, author of The Elegant Solution.May seems to hav

  5. John August 8, 2007 at 5:49 pm - Reply

    Isn’t downgrading the same thing as shortcutting ? If you refuse to shortcut its a case of Not-invented-here because the shortcut probably involves something you didn’t make. Which is kind of satisficing because it doesn’t take much inspiration. The idea of this post is probably the result of my blindspot but I think I just complicated it.

  6. bill lee August 8, 2007 at 6:43 pm - Reply

    Hey Guy, I’m one of those people you see at Costo (actually, Tarjay) getting the 36 rolls of TP. But I don’t look at it as adding on or over-complicating. I look at it as simplifying. I’m already there. Why not get enough of something (I hope) I’ll need for a long time to come. That way I don’t have to come back anytime soon.

  7. Marketing & Strategy Innovation Blog August 9, 2007 at 3:20 am - Reply

    The Seven Sins of Solutions

    By: Guy Kawasaki I introduced you to Matt May in January. Hes the author of The Elegant Solution and the ChangeThis manifesto called Elegant Solutions: Breakthrough Thinking the Toyota Way. He added a new manifesto called Mind of the Innovator:…

  8. Second Brain - Organize Everything in Your Personal Internet Library August 9, 2007 at 4:31 am - Reply

    There are no short-cuts to innovation

    Guy Kawasaki summarized the highlights of a new manifesto on innovation: Mind of the Innovator: Taming the Traps of Traditional Thinking by Matthew May. Basically, the main point is that there are no easy short-cuts to true innovation. Of course,

  9. Miki Louch August 9, 2007 at 4:58 am - Reply

    The concept of not blinking is great — we need to learn how to treat the illness and not the symptom. Now, the question is this: how can we get the higher-ups in our companies to do THAT instead of blinking and slapping a proverbial Band-Aid on everything perceived as “wrong”? (Essentially, how does one un-bozo the bozos?)

  10. Jenny August 9, 2007 at 5:02 am - Reply

    Thanks Guy,
    I’m going to print this out and hang it above my desk. I think Downgrading has been the most frustrating trap to watch others fall into and honestly it used to be my biggest flaw.
    Until the first time I failed utterly and completely at something I was 100% invested in I didn’t understand the difference between “failing” and “giving up”. Failing when I’ve given every inch of passion and thought and effort I have although not one of my favorite experiences has only served to toughen and wisen me up a bit. Not bad things… Downgrading on the other hand really is quitting in disguise – you get to keep a nice social face but never really and truly push your limits and you always know your “success” is hollow.

  11. Henk August 9, 2007 at 5:51 am - Reply

    Great comment, John! 🙂

  12. Carlos August 9, 2007 at 8:11 am - Reply

    I agree with most of this but I do have a gripe about the ‘satisificing’ example:
    “What’s the least number of “sticks” you need to move to make this Roman numeral equation correct? XI + I = X
    If you answered anything but zero, you satisficed. Look at it upside down.”
    This felt more like a ‘blindspot’ example. Climbing on top of my cube or flipping my monitor upside down
    were not the first things that came to mind for me. If I were looking at a table with some sticks, like circa ‘old days’, I would have tried the other perspective.
    Other than that, I thought this was a great post.

  13. Carman Pirie's Blog August 9, 2007 at 9:02 am - Reply

    The limitations of traditional thought

    Guy points us to Matthew May’s recent ChangeThis Manifesto entitled Mind of the Innovator: Taming the Traps of Traditional Thinking. It is most definitely worth a read. This manifesto squares beautifully with the Art of Hosting. It does a fantastic

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  16. Social computation and creativity August 20, 2007 at 1:14 am - Reply

    Bugs of collective intelligence: why the best ideas arent selected?

    One of my early posts was about idea killers and idea helpers. Idea killers are common phrases that kill creativity at its origin. Recently, Matt May wrote a piece called Mind of the Innovator: Taming the Traps of Traditional Thinking, where he identif…

  17. Mustafa August 29, 2007 at 11:33 pm - Reply

    Great Read – Thank you !!

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