Well, 2020 has certainly been an interesting year for solving problems, technical and otherwise!

I recently called a few folks I have worked with over the years solving tough product performance, reliability, and quality problems. Many are working from home and go to the plant or office once in a while. A few have suffered pay cuts; big ones!  Most of us know associates who have been sick, and a few, sadly, have died.  Still, I live each day grateful for life, knowing this will be over one day.  Some say we will be back to “normal.”  There will be a new normal, and I think we have but a few ideas as to what it will be. All of us will be working in new and different ways and environments, having to learn to excel in new skills, doing more, better and faster.

Factories are still operating, many at low capacity but problems still have to be solved. Customers demand it. Since companies are not willing to put employees on airplanes when assigned to solve tough problems, they drive if close (I have driven as much as 1500 miles) or try to figure it out over the phone.

If you had asked me twenty-five years ago if I would be willing to have a go at solving tough problems over the phone, I would have said, “Absolutely not!” while thinking back to a project I worked on in Ohio.  I reluctantly provided some advice when asked, which was of no help.  When I arrived a week or so later, I saw why and told myself I wouldn’t do it again. With a quick look, I knew my advice was flawed and had the team on the right track in short order.

Does that mean I would never do it again?  No.  Twenty-five years ago, David, Tobias, and I were working with a consulting company where the strategic approach to problem-solving was based on probabilistic tools and the logic of effect to cause, claimed as proprietary, but easily traced in history.

We knew there was a better way, however, we had no idea how much we could add to our profession.  Our approach, developed and improved over thirty years, is based on the consistent and constrained ways the physical world reveals its nature and has become the new benchmark, placing probabilistic decomposition of machine behavior as a supplement to the primary path of Functional Determinism,  based on how machines are designed and the principles under which they function.

The New Science of Fixing Things specifically developed the system for application to the world of manufacturing quality, product performance, and reliability. Simplicity, speed, and learning one thing every day by forcing a product or process to reveal its nature in four fundamental ways, which, with a bit of experience, can quickly reveal the nature of machine behavior.  Thus, the opportunities to improve reliability, performance, and quality become apparent to the engineer, with significant opportunities for gaining competitive advantage.


There is no other group that can match our experience, speed, technical development, and willingness to share what we know in workshops, articles, and books. (See THSFT Bookstore.) We do not live in fear of clients using or improving on our work. In fact, we see it as an impetus to do better!  We publish, where others claim secrets.

In 2020, we think it is more important than ever to share what we know.  It is important to have a relationship with client problem solvers, as well as a strategy and a structure that works in this crazy environment, as well as the “new normal.”

In learning and developing the system of Functional Decomposition, we learned the importance of developing proper questions, and how to ask them in the proper way. How you approach and allocate resources to solving tough problems is a function of the questions you ask.  If the starting point for a tough problem is, “What’s wrong?” you are at risk of falling off-track, becoming frustrated in short order.

Functional Determinism demands better questions.  All such questions are based on, “What’s happening?”  The idea to learn one thing with each question about the physics of function and failed function; in other words, how stuff really works.

In 2020, this matters more than ever.  Since March, I have helped with several tough problems on conference calls.  The reluctance I have had since 1990, has been tempered, specifically because our ability to ask and answer questions is driven by the constraints of Functional Determinism as applied by The New Science of Fixing Things.

One project involved a bladder that was tearing, and had been worked on for quite some time by a group of folks probabilistically looking at differences between bladders that failed and those that didn’t, or “What’s different?”

We changed the question (based on “What’s happening?”) to, “Does the bladder tear as it is expanding, or does it expand, then tear?”  One of those statements must be true.  The answer will drive the follow-on question, as the physics of the two possibilities are mutually exclusive.

While not all tough problems can be solved only using online technology, some can.  Many, if not all, can get a good start.

John Allen



Naples, Florida

August 2020