42 – The faith in the ONE Solution

Somehow the search for the world formula, the Theory of Everything, seems to permeate Western thought. While the Greek philosophers were all about the atom, nowadays, quantum physics challenges our common sense. Deep Thought had answered after 7.5 million years the question about life, the universe and everything with “forty-two”. The answer seems meaningless, because the beings, who instructed it, never actually knew what the question was.* It could have been clear to them that ‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.’**

In our everyday life we are always driven by this childlike hope for ONE solution by the following aspects.

  • The Right
    Many conflicts arise when people can’t agree on what to do – What do the customers want? Where is the market going? Which strategy is appropriate? What does the product range look like? Even if a lot of parameters are considered, surprisingly this does not lead to the fact that the ideal is more crystallized. On the contrary! The outcome becomes more diffuse – perhaps because there is no such thing as the right one. In extreme cases the indication of the white rabbit applies: If you don’t know where you want to go, then it doesn’t matter which path you take.***
    Since there is no source that shows you the way, there is nothing left to do but design and introduce the right thing yourself.
  • Doing right
    Often there is also a dispute about how to implement your intentions – Which method should be used? What results are needed? How to speed up the process? Where else can you save something? This creates more and more constraints, which form an insufficient basis for the solution. Barriers on the one hand undermine good solutions on the other. In the end, the savers prevent a viable solution – and generate greater losses than they would have ever saved.
    For something to be done right, it must be fulfilled with the desired end. This is done by the people, who create the solution – and they need the necessary resources, even if they exceed, what was originally specified.
  • Best Solution
    We always strive for the best – The shortest term? The most reliable? The most manufacturable? The cheapest? The most maintainable? The most beautiful? The most manageable? In order to eventually find the best solution, everyone wants all criteria to be met – although speed is achieved at the expense of reliability or price; or maintainability is eating away beauty or manageability; and so on. The best sounds a lot like “42” – it is in the eye of the beholder, what it means.
    The common understanding of your own quality enables the brand image that customers associate with the products and services. At the very least, it should be clearly defined whether one is striving for product or process leadership or customer proximity.
  • ONE Meaning
    The first step to a Theory of Everything is to understand that a term can be interpreted in any way. Without developing a common understanding of the requirements, the participants will not be able to meet expectations – e.g. actively engage customers; openness; collaboration; adaptability; intrinsic motivation. If the structural layers remains, the efforts will not fit together.
    Words alone are not enough to convey a common understanding. It is necessary to ensure that the scope for interpretation remains as small as possible, through appropriate explanations and the practical example.

Bottom line: It is difficult to understand how clueless management is, when it comes to the fact that their messages are nothing more than a simple “42” and afterwards they are surprised that their intentions are not coming true. The belief in ONE solution prevents the more effective outcome that would be possible through the cooperation of the many. A first step is to understand that doing the right thing right, the best solution and the ONE meaning is an illusion. The basic conditions are shifting. The world of work is undergoing radical change. Mass solutions only function in cooperation with all parties involved. And they all have their own idea of “42”. If the company is to continue to exist, this can only be achieved by moving away from the belief in ONE solution and by bundling all resources in order to let them jointly determine what “42” is.

*) Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker‘s Guide to the Galaxy

**) Ludwig Wittgenstein Tractatus logico-philosophicus 7

***) Lewis Carroll: Alice in Wonderland