Problem Solving


“We cannot solve a problem by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Albert Einstein

I was listening to a Simon Senik’s podcast on the train the other day and heard him delight in the story of Lalia Ohlgren with the guest he was interviewing, I thought the story was great too and have since done a little research into Lalia.

Laila Ohlgren was the first female engineer to ever receive the Polhem Prize which I am informed is like the Nobel Prize for engineers in Sweden. Laila was an engineer who worked at the Swedish Telecommunication Authority during the 1970s, she was their first female engineer and a real pioneer.

At the time all telephones companies in Europe and the States were in a competitive race to develop the technology that would enable the shift from the old rotary dial telephones to phones that could be used on the move – what would become mobiles but more likely then what would become car phones. Much of the infrastructure was in place, they could see how it would work, Sweden had already built cellular towers around Stockholm that the phones could be connected to but there was one problem they couldn’t seem to overcome.

If you are able to cast you mind back, the old rotary phones worked by picking up the receiver, waiting for the dialling tone and then dialling the number, which could take a while as you dialled each individual number in turn. The problem was that when you did this in a moving car, a building may get in the way which would cause you to lose connection with the cellular tower, or you may drive between towers and again lose connection – this would mean you would have hang up and start the process again – not ideal.

They struggled with this problem for some time – but it was Laila who found the solution – and once understood, as with many good ideas it was very simple but it required someone to come at the problem from a different angle. Rather than speeding up the dialling process, Laila discovered that you could store the number in a microprocessor (which was new technology for the time) this way you could dial the whole number first and then pick up the receiver and send the whole number in one go – thus not losing connection. Laila built a prototype and then drove round Stockholm all weekend testing her idea. We know her idea worked because it seems so obvious to us now, we all utilise this approach multiple times everyday day but it was a breakthrough, it was the birth modern mobile telephony.

At On Track Learning we really love to solve our clients problems through learning. We love to find simple and easy to use ways to provide great learning outcomes that engage the learner and are cost effective for the employee. One example is our mobile training unit COLIN – standing for Compliance Online Training In Situ.

We developed COLIN for a client that were sending all their staff off for three days of annual training every year and who then had to back fill those three days with overtime. We broke the courses, First Aid, Lifting and Hoisting, Epilepsy Medication, down into their component parts and created a programme of online learning that covered the knowledge, the theory and the understanding and we then turn up at all the clients individual sites in COLIN (a retired Ambulance with a bed and hoist in it) to run a short in person practical session and assessment to ensure the learning can be applied. Far easier for the learner and hugely cost effective for the client.