Leader Volume 9, Number 12
Trojan Horse Approach
Hoffman is a chemical engineer and technical consultant to the
paper industry. He can be reached at Paul.firstname.lastname@example.org or by
phone 856/354-1933. Dr. King is director of Cultural Studies &
Analysis in Philadelphia (email@example.com, phone
is the key to any problem-solving task, and is essential for
non-routine problems requiring creativity.
When the usual skills and judgment that come from solving
the customary problem are not equal to the task, thinking must
venture into imagination and other subject domains to yield
solution to a problem falls outside the bounds of straight-line
thinking, it is time to attack the problem by other means. This often involves visiting seemingly unrelated topics or
concepts, ideas that can appear quite foreign or even hostile to
the problem at hand. But
time after time, this way of cracking the problem code has been
the achievements of invention and discovery: photography, the
credit card, microwave technology, Velcro, DNA, the silicon chip,
the theory of evolution, the pacemaker, e-commerce, film, and
satellites. Although these are all now commonplace players in
daily life, their start-points were off the chart, and only later
were they accepted as useful. None of these breakthroughs would
have been possible without the will to think outside the
common-sense box of ideas.
An ability to see
connections where none were visible before is the transforming
power of creativity. Some
of the world’s greatest puzzles have not only been solved, but
whole new fields opened up, by this type of mental exploration in
a wilderness far afield from the safe haven of tried-and-true
answers. But in order
to make offshore ideas mainstream reality, weird ideas must be
able to be viewed as possible and even better than ideas now at
work. Ideas like
photography--drawing pictures with light rather than paint--were
deemed impossible before they were finally realized. Others, like
the telescope and the phonograph, were considered mere toys,
without useful application to “real” problems. Long-term
persuasion, determination, and promotion were required to make
them stick. Unless there is a germ of truth that can be glimpsed
within the idea in order to bring it to life, it is doomed to
oblivion--as millions are every day.
there are two difficulties with idea generation: ideas are either
too conservative or too wild.
Neither is useful to the problem-solving enterprise.
Conservative ideas are stuck within the framework of the
problem itself, doomed to repeat failure.
At the other extreme, those responsible for the solution
are commonly too fearful of being stretched too far by strange
ideas. People are instinctively afraid of being stuck with
untenable far-out concepts that don’t have ready acceptance.
There is also thinking style. Typically, certain thinking
types are better at idea generation, while others excel at making
those ideas work. The
ideal idea-generation process would do both, dealing with the vast
sea of possible solutions by imposing a feasibility net that would
capture those most likely to succeed in application.
used at Scott Paper Company in developing Cottonelle bathroom
tissue, recognizes this problem and suggests a way of handling it.
The “Trojan horse” approach, a surreptitious device to open
the gates to new ideas, is based on a two-group operation, each
with a complementary mandate.
The two groups are the Idea Generating Group (IGG) and the
Idea Implementing Group (IIG). They meet separately. The
first, Generating, is told about the problem to be solved,
instructed to produce a brainstorm of ideas, and informed that the
second group, Implementing, will be responsible for actually
solving the problem by making one of these solutions workable.
So far, a conventional problem-solving scenario.
There is a
caveat: these ideas must be, in principle, doable. They cannot
require heretofore undeveloped science, like time travel, or a
perpetual-motion machine, for instance. But here is the twist: the
first group’s task will actually be to “play a joke" on
the second by developing truly outrageous ideas. The qualifier for
these “outrageous” ideas acts as the mechanism making them
workable for the next stage. Ideas generated are presented to the
second group, the implementers, with the report that they come
from “a group of highly qualified experts” who have already
found them to be feasible.
This ruse is the
hypothetical mind-set that can allow thinking to operate on ideas
without the normal human reticence to risk loss on unproven
ground. As a
Trojan horse device, the force of “possible thinking”
liberates groups to set about constructing workable ideas as
implementable solutions. Members
from Group One, the original Generators, can at this point safely
be re-entered into the process so that their expertise can also be
mined. A recycle
between the two groups may later be necessary.
Study – Paper Physics
The following is
an illustrative example. In the early 1970s, Scott Paper Company
was engaged in inventing and developing a new toilet tissue with
vastly greater softness than previously possible. The normal
development group charged with the task was, however, unable to
improve the underlying softness-strength relationship, even when
it tried every method known up to that time. A separate venture
was therefore formed to solve this task, composed of both IGG and
IIG groups. The IGG, told that it could “play a joke" on
the IIG group, threw the door of invention wide open. A few
brainstorming sessions, looking at possible materials, indicated
to this group that thin latex sheets had the requisite flexibility
or stretch. If added to tissue paper, they would greatly increase
softness. Alas, these materials were insoluble, a property
absolutely essential for flushability of toilet tissue. Hence the
"joke." Still, this group felt that even though
developing a flushable latex seemed extremely difficult, it was
not against the laws of nature. Thus the concept was presented to
the IIG as deemed eminently feasible by experts. Interestingly,
the IIG included many researchers who had originally worked
unsuccessfully on the project.
expected groaning and gnashing of teeth, the Implementor group,
fortified by some of the members of the Generator group, got to
work. The latex was printed thinly in a hexagonal pattern onto the
paper web. This method created paper with the required softness,
but the tissue remained unflushable. The group persevered. The
breakthrough invention occurred when someone realized that a
continuous thin opening could be created across each latex
hexagonal by designing a suitable hex pattern. Water could then
penetrate these openings, rendering the web flushable while
maintaining the desirable softness feature. This method was later
duplicated chemically by incorporating a water-soluble material
into the latex emulsion, the soluble material providing the
opening, acting as a conduit to the water. The major problem
solved, the remaining, not inconsiderable, problems were quickly
resolved, and the resulting Cottonelle bathroom tissue became the
softest tissue on the market.
Let's analyze the
above example. There were three separate keys to the success of
the project. The first was the recognition by the IGG group that
latex is a suitable material to complement tissue paper. This part
required considerable inventiveness, as well as expertise, without
which the "Trojan horse" approach would not, and cannot,
work. It helped, however, that this group did not need to concern
itself with implementation. The second included the "Trojan
horse" itself, the presentation of the solution as deemed
doable by experts. The third was the implementation of the
solution. That too required invention and hard work. All three are
essential steps to this approach. To recapitulate: merely
presenting an unworkable idea as doable and expecting it to create
a miraculous solution is an exercise in futility.
Imagination is one thing; creativity is another.
immeasurable value in imaginative thinking, but that imagination
must face the discipline of being put to work as innovation in
real time. The first
step is to devise a stealth device to make remote ideas seem
feasible, subduing their “wild” qualities by defining them up
front as achievable. Supporting
wider and deeper imagination, the “as- if” mindset draws a
wide circle of possibility around the brain’s ability to
imagine. Solutions that are workable as well as creative come directly
from this circle of the mind.