How to Fail Most Successfully

Ultra-Solutions, first coined by Paul Watzlawick, are solutions that in a previous situation worked brilliantly or at least to your satisfaction. Then you try the solution in another context and it turns into the opposite. The solution is worse than the disease. It is a way to fail most successfully.

Rocket silos

NASA built silos for rockets against corrosion. The missiles were becoming increasingly larger, and the silos were increasingly getting higher. So high that the upper air began to condense and considerable corrosion of the rockets occurred. Thus, the solution to the problem turned into the reason why the solution did not work.

Ultra Solutions

Ultra-Solutions are a result of patterned thinking. The idea is that a new but similar problem will be solved by applying a more-of-the-same solution, which solved an earlier problem satisfactory.


It is smart to have a central handling of passengers and luggage at an airport. That saves manpower and infrastructure. It also ensures quick handling and flow. Despite a drastic increase in air traffic airports continued to maintain this solution. As a result, the travel time of a passenger of the central hall to the plane takes as much time as the flight time to any place in Europe.

measuring is knowing

It is wise to make business activity measurable. This means that you get more understanding of where efficiency gains can be achieved. To measure is to know. Therefore, the more aspects you measure, the better. This focus on measuring aspects have resulted in physicians having less and less time for consulting patients,  teachers giving fewer lectures, and nurses paying less attention to patients. Vital components of good health care and teaching have disappeared. As a result, the quality of the care may become less efficient since the patients have little time to explain and discuss their symptoms and there is little time to discuss preventative care.

A solution turns into its opposite

Thus, sometimes an adequate solution turns into its opposite and becomes the problem. The problem could be described as lack of thinking.

Old ideas are used in new situations without any proper examination of risks and potential problems. It is also one of the pitfalls of Yellow Hat Thinking that is used in the Six Hat Thinking framework.  Under this thinking framework, the attention is focused on different aspect, which helps to minimise neglecting to search for both positive aspects and risks and potential problems. However, it is easy to have a strong belief in an idea and a possible reversal of positives is difficult. Yet, it is necessary to search for faults with an open mind. This search belongs to Black Hat Thinking and stepping away from the search for positive aspects is a good strategy.

A short break may help you to refocus on actively searching for risks and possible long-term consequences with a suggestion.

Photo: Architectural Design by chrisroll


5 Replies to “How to Fail Most Successfully”

  1. The solution can make it worse.
    Numerous examples can be given of the latter principle. In San Francisco, a total ban was imposed on plastic packaging and bags. The result was a doubling of CO2 emissions. This was caused by the raw materials, the manufacture and the transport of the alternatives (paper bags and cardboard boxes).

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