Are You Using a Brick to Kill a Fly? When the Solution Is Bigger Than the Problem

So small, but so persistent. Photo by Jin Yeong Kim on Unsplash

Do you regularly use a brick to kill a fly?

What does that even mean?

Because - obviously - you know better than to use something as large and heavy as a brick to kill something as tiny and insignificantand annoying - as a fly, right?

With regards to an actual fly, you likely do.

But what about other instances where your solution is bigger than the problem?

Example: You want a new phone that takes better pictures.

No problem, you can get one of those. But then the sales person convinces you that your phone should also have additional features, such the capacity to floss your teeth for you. (Go with me on this.)

When you walked into the store, all you wanted was a phone that took better pictures, but you walked out with a phone that not only flosses your teeth, but also has a million other features.

You used a brick to kill a fly; your solution ended up being bigger than the problem.

Now, if you're genuinely excited about being able to use these awesome new features - who knew a phone could also floss your teeth?! - that's great!

But if you get home with your new purchase and realize you ended up paying for features that you're never going to use - because you can manage to floss your teeth on your own, thank you very much - then you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Before attempting to solve any problem, assess the size of the problem, so that you don't apply too much solution.

How big is the problem? Photo by Sarah Kilian on Unsplash

Personal Example: recently my fiancé and I decided to purchase bikes. We were in a store that happened to have a "Refurbished / As Is" bike rack. These bikes had all been returned for various reasons. All were nearly new, but they had obviously been used (briefly) and had minor imperfections (aesthetic, not functional).

I was super excited when I saw the wide selection, and even more excited when I saw the discounts of 50% on all the bikes! (I love a deal.)

I hopped on one and rode around the store a few times, then said to my fiancé "I'm buying this bike."

My fiancé took a lot longer to decide.

PROBLEM: Bicycles needed

The thing is, we both definitely needed new bicycles. I didn't have a bike, so last summer I'd used one that we found in the garage which a previous tenant had left behind (there was a reason it had been left...), and he'd used his ancient (I mean old) bicycle that needed the tires inflated after every ride because it had a slow leak. (It was also fugly - yellow and black - like a rusty bumble-bee.)

FINDING THE SOLUTION: How much bicycle is needed? (a.k.a. - What the bike will be used for will determine how many features are required.)

We're both very active; we live near one of the best bike paths in the city and we're getting married later this year.

Meaning we're definitely going to continue biking together, so we definitely needed new bicycles.

But what were going to be using them for? 

Leisurely evening and weekend bike rides; not competitive events.

Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash


My fiancé's hesitation in purchasing one of the bikes is that it was a mountain bike and not a road bike, which, according to him, would slow him down a bit.

Before I go on, I have to tell you that he has a competitive side - you figured that out didn't you? - especially when he participates in his semi-annual Spartan Supers which are 10-12 km races with 25 obstacles.

He cares very much about his placement in those races with good reason; for the last 10-years they've motivated him to train and overcome some health challenges he's had. (Last year he placed 41st out of 899 contestants, and 90th out 992.)

Because I understood that, I kept reminding him that he wasn't going to be using this bike for any professional event. The only race that he and that bike would take part in was an annual charity ride to raise money for the children's hospital. 


But, he was having a lot of trouble letting go of the idea that he had to purchase a bike that would ensure he was as fast as possible.


I said to him "Well if it really bothers you, then don't buy it. But we're here now, that's a really nice bike, and it's 50% off. The bike will suit the purpose you need it for, which is our weekend rides together, and a charity race once a year. If you want to go home and think about it or do more research, you can, but this bike likely won't be here within a few days. The opportunity is here now, and personally, I'm going to take it, because it's far too good a deal to pass up."

Don't use a brick when a fly-swatter will do just fine - aka - assess the size of the problem, so that you don't apply too much solution.

In this case, if my fiancé was a competitive biker (to the level of his Spartan races) then buying that bike would have been a terrible idea, because it would definitely slow him down. 

(Although I don't understand the nuances surrounding different types of bicycles, I understand that a road bike and a mountain bike are not optimized for the same things.)

But he's not a competitive biker; he only needs this for casual riding, therefore this was a big enough solution for the size of the problem.

(Remember, his previous bike was old and fugly and needed the tires inflated after every ride because it had a slow leak. Any bike would be an upgrade from that.)

He rode around the store a handful of times, carefully looked at the nuts and bolts of the thing, and then...he bought the bike.

Photo by Danny De Vylder on Unsplash

I love that my fiancé takes the time to do his research before making a purchase, and that he wants to buy the best product he can to solve the problem at hand. (As you've also likely figured out, I can be very impulsive, so we balance one another out nicely.)

But if you have a problem that's the size of a fly, you don't need a brick to solve it.

Yes, a brick will solve the problem, but it's overkill - more than you need.

And the "brick-sized" solution generally costs more; mo features, mo money.

Identify the size of the problem so that you don't pay for features you don't need - aka - buy a brick.

Ask yourself "What's the fly-swatter-sized solution here?"

Because sometimes good enough is good enough - and - it solves the problem.

No problems here. Photo by Michael Oxendine on Unsplash

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