Right through one’s life, you face a constant tryst with problems. For eons now, we have always looked at problems as a part and parcel of every life and every activity. But really, how much do we understand them?
As a part of my work in the area of business analytics and decision making, I have been looking at multiple facets of a problem. One of my early eureka moments in this endeavor came, when I realized that I was possibly missing the forest for the trees when I concentrated mainly on diagnosing a problem. Plainly speaking, the value to be had by trying to diagnose the antecedents to a problem is fairly limited. There are two reasons for this:
- One can never establish beyond reasonable doubt a clear cause-effect relationship between the problem and its antecedents (bounded rationality being the primary reason)
- However complex or simple the precursors, it is most unlikely that the sequence of events would repeat itself to throw the same problem again (no two snowflakes are alike)
More value can be harnessed, if the impact that a problem would have is given higher importance. The logic points towards looking ahead, and not in the past, to establish the nature of a problem.
So, what is the nature of a problem? Drawing from the universal laws of motion, I propose the following “Natural Laws of Problems”
First, why should laws of motion be relevant to problems?
There have been many such instances where extending the context to establish wider relevance and generalizing the interpretations have helped further the frontiers of our knowledge. A reason to use the laws of physics in this realm is simply to bring in a degree of separation between the emotional connect and objective assessment of situations which many a times has been seen as a valuable approach to addressing things.
Sooner we realize that we are constantly juggling a fine interplay of problems and our response to it, easier and more prepared we are to lead a better life. Just as the laws of motion and gravitation explains the delicate cosmic balance and any physical happenings, one could see problems and our response as the natural forces explaining the social and personal balance.
The Natural laws of Problems
- A life continues to stagnate in a steady problem state unless one keeps enhancing it with an evolved change
- A problem can neither be created not destroyed, one can only recognize its existence and address it by being more aware of the situation
- Every problem has an equal and opposite opportunity
The explanation of the laws:
1st law – the Law of Steady State: “A life continues to stagnate in a steady problem state unless one keeps enhancing it with an evolved change” – often we find ourselves in a state of artificial bliss by assuming that the steady-state is a desired state of being and it maximizes the value of one’s life. The reality however is that our life is in a state of constant flux. By being stationary we would be worse off than before. It is therefore important to keep a pace of change even if we want to maintain status quo. Intuitively as we collect more information about the future, we would be better served if we continued the process of evolving our life. Therefore change is a necessary and valuable part of each life
2nd law – The Law of Perpetuity: “A problem can neither be created not destroyed, one can only recognize its existence and address it by being more aware of the situation” – we spend a considerable amount of time establishing the cause of a problem. We would like to find someone or something to blame for every problem. This however is a wasteful exercise, by being able to find someone to blame doesn’t necessary make the problem vanish. Instead we just create another artificial bliss that we won’t be affected by it. A better approach is to think that a problem will always be around if we look for it closely. There are some triggers around us that helps us see these otherwise hidden problems. Related to this is also the treatment of the problem, we lose a significant amount of energy trying to rid the factors that cause the problem. One actually just needs to move on having spent adequate amount of time and energy to capture the learning associated with it.
3rd Law – The Law of Returns: “Every problem has an equal and opposite opportunity” – if the earlier two laws made you uncomfortable, this final law should help ease the discomfort. Hidden in every problem is an opportunity, an opportunity to enhance, evolve, grow and excel. By trying to see a problem in this manner ensures that you will have the best response in your favor. Remember your personal or social life is not a zero sum game and resolving a challenge is not equal to passing it to someone else. It is a less efficient and effective response. Looking at the opportunity in every challenge would ensure that you find most effective and efficient response to it every time.
So, how does it affect us?
Just as laws of motion brought a new found clarity into everything to do with mechanics, the “Natural Laws of Problems” could be used to bring a new perspective into the way we approach problems. While traditionally we think of a solution the moment we have a problem; we associated problems with failure. Using the laws, one could begin to give a more robust and closer look at the problem itself. Understand the importance of problems in any life or situation and approach them with an excitement of learning rather than the burden of failure.
On the basis of the first law – “The Law of Steady State”, we could use it to look at the absence of a challenge as a possible early signs of stagnation and evolution. On the basis of the second law – “The Law of Perpetuity”, we could use it to develop a better sense of developing response to problem and also draw energy from each problem we face rather than feeling drained and defeated by it. Finally on the basis of the third law – “The Law of Returns”, we could use it to harness the hidden value in each problem. Look beyond the obvious sheath of hindrances to unveil the core of opportunities that comes with the recognition of each problem.
The Greek approach to problems was one of dialogues and questioning. The relevance of such an approach has become more established in the knowledge age we live in. We might not have Socrates, Aristotle or Plato to hold our imagination through a web of smart questions; but we have numerous possibilities of enhancing our learning with every problem if we can learn to ask the right question and deep dive into the digital web to seek it.
So remember, next time you have a problem, value it and look straight into it with a question that gives you the larger value for your problem, than just a way to skirt it.