Idea sex contributes to solving problems

Kaizen ideeensex

Idea sex has become famous thanks to prof. dr. Thijs Homan.


In this article, we will identify the 6 failure factors for continuous improvement. We discuss the failure factor ‘lack of problem solving capacity’ and give practical tips, for example how idea sexcontributes to solving problems.

Benefits of Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement is the implementation of much smaller improvements, preferably conceived and executed by employees who are involved in the process to be improved. Result: permanently improved performance, satisfied customers and committed employees.

Another advantage is that the organization becomes more agile because employees become accustomed to change. Continuous improvement also ensures a good composition of the improvement teams for better collaboration in and between teams.


Why is continuous improvement so difficult?

The illustration below is about applying Lean (which is simply a way of continuous improvement) and shows that 85% of Lean implementations are ultimately unsuccessful.

The overview also mentions the failure factors:

  1. focusing too much on Lean tools
  2. insufficient leadership
  3. insufficient link with strategy
  4. low communication about why change is needed
  5. insufficiently focused on personal development
  6. lack of problem-solving skills.
Coimbee-effect Shingo

The first 5 failure factors listed are regularly written about, but the last failure factor – the lack of problem-solving capacity – is mentioned less often.

However, the lack of problem-solving ability is regularly present in practice.

Research shows that 85% of the C-level executives interviewed fully agree that their organizations are bad in the problem diagnosis, and 87% fully agreed that this lack entails considerable costs. In the research, the pattern is described as follows: spurred on by our predilection for action (Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow, ISBN 9780141033570), managers tend to switch quickly to solution mode without checking whether they really understand the problem. This often leads to fighting symptoms, while the actual problem persists, or it leads to excessively expensive and complex solutions.

Examples from practice

When a lift was introduced, people complained that the elevator was going too slowly. The most obvious solution is to increase the speed. However, research into the waiting experience of elevator users revealed that they overestimated their waiting time. And then came the idea to hang mirrors in elevators. The elevators did not go any faster, but it gave people a distraction. A follow-up investigation showed that the lift users thought that the ‘new’ elevators were much faster, while nothing except the mirrors had changed.


The following video also shows a good example of what happens when the cause of a problem is not well understood. The video also shows a way to get to the core of the problem. In the rest of this article, we give more tips to solve problems structurally and permanently.

Practical tips for improving problem-solving capacity

In order to ensure that the right problem is solved, andthe right solution is realized, we describe four practical tips below


Tip 1. Do not think too early in solutions

The problems are often presented in the form of solutions. For example ‘The lift must be faster’ is a solution. The real problem is not mentioned here. The following helps with not thinking too quickly in solutions:

  • asking the ‘5x why’ question from the video shown
  • objectivity (see tip 2)
  • diversity (see tip 3).


Tip 2. Objectivity

To prevent more vocal employees from taking over and to avoid working with assumptions, time will have to be spent discovering the facts.

Statements such as ‘that problem often occurs’ or ‘that problem costs us a lot of money’ must be translated into how often the problem actually occurs and how much money it really is. Dr W. Deming (the driving force behind the PDCA circle) said aptly:

‘Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.’ 

The information obtained shows how frequently the problem occurs and what the impact of the problem is. This information helps with the diagnosis, setting priorities and provides input for a possible business case.


Tip 3. Idea sex

Idea sex is described by Dr Thijs Homan as follows: ‘It means that different ways of thinking meet each other when people talk to each other about the changes in the organization, where there is a certain interactive quality. In addition, the concept of ‘variety’ is of great importance: there must be a certain difference between the perceptions of the people involved. If everyone thinks the same, nothing new can be created.’

When solving problems, working in a team with sufficient varietyis therefore important because a better solution is devised. The advantage is also that the solution will have a larger support, which facilitates the final implementation.

Albert Einstein: ‘We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.’


Tip 4. Structured approach

A structured way of tackling and solving problems is the Plan – Do – Check – Act cycle (see the handy PDCA checklist).

The advantage of this is, among other things, that employees get clarity on how to tackle a problem and, because there is a standard approach (which naturally incorporates the above tips), this standard can be learned and perfected.


Lessons learned in practice

Problem solving progresses better with a structured approach, but taking sufficient time remains a problem in practice. ‘Haste makes waste’ is an idea everyone knows, but in practice, it is not easy to act accordingly.

That is why it is advisable to start with a structured approach and the other tips mentioned, to start with relatively small problems so that employees see faster results and experience the value of this approach.

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