One of the reasons problems dont get solved is that too often we misunderstand the true nature of the problem. Take the following storya favorite at General Motorsabout a complaint received by Pontiac. The customers letter to the president of the Pontiac Division is as follows:
This is the second time I have written you, and I dont blame you for not answering me, because what I have to say sounds kind of crazy.
But it is a fact that we have a tradition in our family of ice cream for desert after dinner each night. But the kind of ice cream varies. So every night, after weve eaten, the whole family votes on which kind of ice cream we should have and I drive down to the store to get it.
Its also a fact that I recently purchased a new Pontiac, and since then my trips to the store have created a problem. You see, every time I buy vanilla ice cream, when I start back from the store my car wont start. If I get any other kind of ice cream, the car starts fine.
I want you to know Im serious about this question, no matter how silly it sounds: “What is there about a Pontiac that makes it not start when I get vanilla ice cream, and easy to start whenever I get any other kind?”
The Pontiac president was understandably skeptical about the letter, but sent an engineer to check it out anyway. The latter was surprised to be greeted by a successful, obviously well-educated man in a fine neighborhood. He had arranged to meet the man just after dinner time, so the two hopped into the car and drove to the ice cream store. It was vanilla ice cream that night and sure enough after they came back to the car it wouldnt start.
The engineer returned for three more nights. The first night the man got chocolate. The car started. The second night he got strawberry. The car started. The third night he ordered vanilla. Again the car failed to start.
Now the engineer, being a logical man, refused to believe that this mans car was allergic to vanilla ice cream. He arranged therefore, to continue his visits for as long as it took to solve the problem. And toward this end he began to take notes: he jotted down all sorts of data, time of day, type of gas used, time to drive back and forth, etc.
In a short time he had a clue: The man took more time to buy any other flavor than vanilla. Why? The answer was in the layout of the store. Vanilla, being the most popular flavor, was in a separate case at the front of the store for quick pickup. All the other flavors were kept in the back of the store at a different counter where it took considerably longer to find the flavor and get checked out.
Now the question for the engineer was why the car wouldnt start when it took less time. Once time became the problemnot the vanilla ice creamthe engineer quickly came up with the answer: vapor lock. It was happening every night, but the extra time taken to get the other flavors allowed the engine to cool down sufficiently to start. When the man got vanilla the engine was still too hot for the vapor lock to dissipate.