An Elegant Solution: What’s It Take to Produce One.

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My readings on leadership, strategy and innovation take me in many directions. This past weekend, I read The Elegant Solution: Toyota’s Formula for Mastering Innovation by Matthew E. May. The author started on a quest to understand Toyota’s formula and the more he learned about it, the more captivating it became for him, and the expert he became. Toyota eventually engaged him to design and deliver key program for its University of Toyota – not just at Toyota but also for other companies interested in learning about their process and systems, including Wells Fargo, Gallup, the Department of Defense and the Los Angeles Police Department.

The basic proposition is that the quest for the elegant solution – a singular, and often deceptively simple idea with huge impact beyond the enormous complexity of the business challenge – shapes true innovation. As a former Chairman of Toyota teaches, it takes three Cs that produce innovation: Creativity, Challenge and Courage.   This means ingenuity in one’s craft (processes and systems), pursuit of perfection (never losing sight of the true purpose) and the willingness to make it fit within the context of society’s other needs. It explains why, when Toyota decided to enter the high-end car market, dominated by Mercedes and BMW, it took ten years to build all the components of the Lexus car and service business, and only a couple of years to achieve dominance once it entered the market.

An elegant solution Is the juxtaposition of simplicity and power; often a single tiny idea that changes everything. For engineers, it’s engines producing great performance with the least waste of resources. In a mathematical proof, it’s the minimum number of steps to achieve the solution with greatest clarity.

In today’s complex world, we should promote the pursuit of elegant solutions. What distinguishes great innovation is its ability to serve society with a valuable, meaningful contribution. Apple has been a leader lately in generating such elegant solutions, including the “iPod ecosystem†and the original smart phone, the iPhone. What are some other examples? In what other areas of our lives do we need more elegant solutions? Let’s share ideas and inspire new ones.