The United States faced countless problems in World War II. One problem was aircraft casualties. When airplanes that had encountered enemy fire returned from missions, the military carefully mapped out where they were damaged. They discovered that most of the damage was bullet holes to the wings and tail.
The engine was spared.
The data clearly showed that the wings, tail, and middle fuselage of the plane were vulnerable to damage. The problem was defined as: “How to protect the wing, tail and fuselage areas?” The solution: Add more armor to those areas.
Enter Abraham Wald, a mathematician and economist who lectured in Vienna and at Yale. He was now a member of the Statistical Research Group (SRG), a group tasked to approach military problems using scientific research methods.
Wald proposed another approach. Don’t increase the armor to the wings and tail, armor the engine.
Look closely at the diagram again. What part of the airplane has not been hit by bullets? The engines!
So what gives?
See, the military focused their efforts on studying planes that had returned to base after being shot. Wald saw the other side of the coin – the planes that didn’t make it back. If the engines were hit, the plane and its crew went down and weren’t being counted in the research.
Wald surmised that the engines were also vulnerable, and that vulnerability was most critical. They took Wald’s advice and armored the engine, not the wings and the tail.
The problem you see is the problem you solve. Wald brought a new outlook that helped the military see the real problem, and saved lives in the process.
This story and other ways to discover the best problem to solve are in my latest book, Solve the Real Problem which is due to be released in July. Click here to pre-order the book now!