StephenL: Let’s talk about problem solving. Whether it’s designing the shot that won, building a triple expansion engine, or managing competing deliverables at work, how much detail or depth do you go into when solving a problem. Are you planning on the fly? Using a simple to do list? Or does every problem require a three inch thick binder of your project plan?
@Glenn_Smith : Like most things the answer to that question is it depends.
It really depends on the situation, what the required end result, who is it for and who else is involved.
For example, most of my photography is just for fun and for my use it’s just that I share it on social media as others seem to enjoy seeing my work and what I come up with. Photography is a form of the arts and as such it’s in theory a creative outlet.
Creativity is something I’ve always struggled with, it’s not something that comes naturally to me, it’s something I almost have to fight and wrestle with to get an end result. I know people that see my work would probably disagree. On a good day I get into what people call the zone and I can produce some images that turn out nicely. Other days I just go through the motions trying to come up with something. Most weekends I shoot for a whole day and maybe come up with four to five images I’m happy to share out.
So where does problem solving come in here, well photography is really all about problem solving, but to solve a problem you need to first have one, so the first part is to actually realise you have a problem that needs to be solved. Photography-wise that can come in the form of a deadline where you need to get a certain image by a certain deadline.
You mentioned the Canon light awards shot. To get that shot I actually took 522 images, (I just checked), each one a slight variation or test shot testing out varous aspect of the shot, I had 24 hours from leaving a location near the city, to drive home one hour, come up with an idea based on a brief, take a shot, use minimal processing, drive back and download the shot to a Canon network, competing against about 400 plus other photographers, many of which were professional photographers.
So the problem solving used here was pretty much on the fly, try things to see if I liked it, see if I thought it would appeal to the judge, a Canon Master who is very much in to surrealism in his work using lighting. So a few things to aim for and of course meet the brief. With only 24 hours to come up with concept to completed work.
So I’d shoot a series of shots checking the back of the camera to see how things were shaping up, go upstairs, download the images on the iMac, see how they looked, then back down and try again to improve on the image.
The trick was to use lighting to tell a story where every light had to have a purpose, So I had to come up with lights. I only used one speedlite in the shot but the shoot actually used nine separate light sources.
It’s amazing how many different lights you can find in a house when you look. Two iphones using the torch function, several torches and of course a speedlight. Lighting effects were for coloured gels, and even a red coloured plastic shopping bag with a torch shining though it.
With lighting you start with one light and keep adding one light at a time checking that the angles and distances are right to give the right effect without cancelling out the already positioned light. So it was very much a trial and error process.
Where as my day to day job and previous jobs have been very structured, and in some cases there were problem solving tools already laid out to use.
At the slurry pump company there was a big push to use ‘Lean’ tools and the ‘lean’ philosophy. The ‘Kaizan’ events were often used and I was part of the company wide ‘Lean’ Team.
Here you were given a short time to improve a particular task or system in the value stream. The first stage was always to measure the existing process, then study the existing process, value stream map it, using value stream tools, come up with a proposal pitch the proposal to management with estimates of gains and cost benefits.
If the pitch was successful then implement the improvement and measure it to ensure that it achieved the results proposed. Finally document the new process, set up work instructions and finally record the whole process so other divisions can learn from the update and see if it can be implemented in their overseas sites.
So this problem solving was very structured and rolled out to all divisions within the organisation on a global level.
Another opportunity with the slurry pump company came when there was a big push to learn a process of innovation. This one actually appealed to me very much as this one was a structured way of coming up with innovating ideas using a set of tools again so instead of sitting back and daydreaming up an idea it was a very structured way of coming up with new novel ideas.
For those interested in the process here’s a link to the website of the company that lead the innovation change process.
This process can be used in any organisation and not just a Design / Manufacturing process (it’s been successfully used in the IT industry), or even just home life where you want to improve or come up with a new idea for something.
The last area I’ll cover here is a small home project.
An example was a few months back I was going to put on a display of some of my photography work at a local art café where they have an artist on display every month. So my problem here was I had images that were only prints and unframed. So how to go about the framing process.
I already had woodworking skills from various other woodworking (furniture making) projects I’ve completed at home. So can I make a frame and mount prints? Something I’ve never done. But all seemed do able. So a fair bit of research went into this one, Youtube, reading websites.
I considered doing a framing course at the local picture framer, but that one got difficult when they changed the training days to only week days and working five days a week that one became an issue. So I studied up on it all, worked out what I needed in the way of tooling to carry out the process and of course finding raw materials.
I have a Printer capable of printing up to A2 sized full colour prints, I had a basic mat cutter a bit small and very simple. I had all the woodworking tools so I figured, what do I have to lose?
First step was to find a decent mat cutter, one that would cut decent sized mats and also cut glass. Once that was found, the next step was to find a local supplier. I found one so I thought, but after several attempts to contact them and no response I tried a second one. It was only 950km away so local for Australia, so I ordered that and it arrived within two days, That was impressive.
Next up, source the materials. I found a local framing supply place only a 40 minutes drive. So I sourced glass, 3.5 metre framing lengths, mat boards and foam core boards, framing wire, D rings to mount the wire, archival tape and backing paper. So a car full of supplies and a drive home without breaking 16 sheets of glass.
The only part I wasn’t too confident in was the glass cutting. That was something I hadn’t done, I’ve cut ceramic tiles when I’d tiled the bathroom, (A previous project, complete renovation of a bathroom).
So back to the question on problem solving. There were a lot of problems in this simple project most were solved by small planning processes, a bit of a project plan on a single page, listing of raw material quantities based on calculated lengths taking into account off cuts. A rough plan was made of the frame lengths.
The cutting of the glass was interesting as the first cut ended in half a sheet of broken glass. I didn’t take into account the self-weight of the glass and if broke under its own weight.
Each sheet was cut into four. I enlisted the assistance of my wife to hold the unsupported corner, the mat cutter supported three corners, but the remaining corner wasn’t able to take its own weight. So problem solved based on trial and error.
After all the glass was cut a new problem arose.
They were cut close to the same size but a slight variation so that meant each frame had to be custom made to each sheet of glass. Each sheet was measured, labeled so I knew which one was what size, then came the mass production of the frames.
I started off using a hand mitre saw and cut the first frame by hand. All worked well, but very time consuming. So with nineteen more to make I’d probably still be cutting, so I decided to use a cut off drop saw that I had. To speed up the process I made up a series of jigs with stops so I could work faster. This worked out well, again trial and error to start with but once set up I was able to go much faster. Frames were made, joined and finished. Mat cutting and foam core boards were easy and the mat cutter made easy work of twenty mats in no time at all, a worthwhile investment.
So the problem solving here was trial and error, some minor planning, some tooling to speed up repeat processes and purchasing the right tool for the right job.
There are many problem solving tools to use. It will depend on the time you have, the end result, which tool is best to use. But having the tools available and knowing which one to use when goes a long way to making life easier.
So that’s a quick insight in to some of my problem solving without going too deep. I could easily go into all the finer details of the tools I use, but that would fill the 3 inch binder then.
StephenL: Thanks for the phenomenal interview, Glenn! If anyone reading this has more questions for Glenn please ask away as he’s been kind enough to entertain them. If not, I hope you enjoyed this interview on Cake.