One of the tools I have used throughout my life, but most especially in my career as an accountant, is to envision the ‘Ideal Solution’ whenever I am confronted with a particularly thorny problem.
I usually resort to this whenever the problem I am confronted with appears to have no solution- or more precisely, every solution I can think of can be almost instantly shot down because it has a flaw in it. This kind of situation tends to bring on a kind of panicked mindset where the problem seems insoluble and the ‘solutions’ seem infinite.
The ‘Ideal Solution’ method involves stepping back from everything, i.e. disengaging myself from the details of the problem to look at just exactly what we are trying to accomplish. Once I have identified the overarching goal, I then give myself carte blanche to imagine I had every tool conceivable at my disposal in order to reach that goal. And I’m not beyond diving into science fiction or fantasy in order to achieve this ‘Ideal Solution.’
By going through this thought process, I identify a solution to the problem, which I typically put down on paper. And once this ‘Ideal Solution’ is down on paper usually one of two things happens. Either the ideal provides me the clarity on the problem that I have been lacking and gives me the basic outline for solving the problem without resorting to the ideal. Or I start addressing the different components of the ideal solution to find a real world solution to each of them, or at the very least a real world work around that will be satisfactory.
An example of this came when we changed our software system at Colorado Container and discovered the new system did NOT keep track of work-in-process inventory like we thought it did. At CCC, work-in-process was a significant asset that needed to be recorded on the financial statement, and we had absolutely no way to track it or cost it with this new system.
Once it became obvious we could not get the work-in-process number out of the new software, I sat down and determined what would be the ideal way for us to come up with this asset’s valuation. From that outline I was able to piece together a real world solution to the problem consisting of taking pieces of data from our production planning software, the costing module of our new enterprise software program, several Excel spreadsheets and copious amounts of time from my assistant to capture all the data and massage it into a number that would consistently give us a decent work-in- process asset value each month.
So if you find yourself with the kind of panicked mindset that comes on when you are dealing with a seemingly insoluble problem, take a deep breath, step back from the problem and then put your imagination to work in creating an ‘Ideal Solution’ for solving the problem. Amazingly, you will find that you can indeed solve the problem.