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Clearly Define the Problem

29th October 2019

Of all the quotes attributed to Einstein, this is probably my favourite:

“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” – Albert Einstein

Overlooking the possibility that Einstein never said this, I think it’s a really important idea to keep in mind when implementing solutions to problems, both in your own life and in wider society. The reason for thinking this way is that it is infinitely more likely that a haphazardly applied solution will cause more harm than good.

We grow up testing ideas, but we don’t realise the history that we have millenia of humans failing and iterating on solutions to everyday problems. Get a cut on your arm? Cover it up with a clean bandage or it will get infected. How long do you think it took us to work that one out? Probably a long time after “rub some dirt in it” proved to be a great way to cause an infection.

How about climate change then, the biggest and most complicated problem humanity has ever faced? While we have been studying the effects of climate change for decades the people in charge still have little to no understanding of the problem, let alone how to fix it. Germany’s rush towards using only renewable energy is not only costing a fortune, but is also much less efficient, clean and reliable than neighbouring France’s nuclear power.

How about the issue behind transgender rights and the story of a seven year old boy in Texas being put on hormone blockers to transition to a girl? How much do we actually know about this issue and how has the political polarisation of this issue prevented us from truly understanding how transgender manifests and why. When everyone is just shouting their opinions and even researchers and doctors have political bias and skew their data to get their favoured political outcomes, how can we even begin to even get to our solutions phase when we have barely scratched our problem defining stage?

This is why we owe it to ourselves and to the rest of society to de-politicise as many issues as we can, so we can talk about them and figure out the nature of the problem. Only after we understand the problem should we even think about our solutions. Otherwise we risk causing more harm.



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