Bare Bones Biology 024. Problem Solving I

So, I retired about 10 or 11 years ago, I know you’ll get tired of hearing this story, and looked around to find some charismatic leader who is going in the same direction. I would become his or her follower and so make a contribution to the future. The only requirement was it has to cause more good than harm for people and the ecosystem.

I looked.

And looked.

And looked.

Lots of charismatic leaders flying off in all directions, but if you put them all in one big pile they cancel each other out. No progress. This is OK if you believe in the evolution model of solving problems, because eventually something will climb out of the pile that brings about change, but it’s extremely inefficient.

The evolution model is that everyone works really, really hard at whatever they are good at, and then one wins according to the conditions of the day, and the other 99 get lopped off. That may be OK for dinosaurs and other creatures that don’t do science and history, and don’t know how to learn from their mistakes, but I think it’s really inefficient for persons like us who have logical brains. I prefer to work at something that has more than a ½ percent probability of succeeding.

So I kept on looking, and what I found, among the charismatic leaders around the world, was a set of problem solving techniques that don’t solve problems. Or rather, they only solve little temporary problems — sometimes.

This was beginning to remind me of the time in my previous life that I determined never again to do anything I would be ashamed of. It lasted almost two years, and I basically never did anything at all for the whole two years except maintain life and limb and keep my job . I contrast that with my first trip to Japan. I squirm with embarrassment even now, remembering how almost everything I did was inappropriate to where I was, and yet I wouldn’t trade that experience for any other single experience in my life. But it would have been better if I knew what I was getting into before I got into it.

Maybe there is something between those two, where we can avoid the really, really dumb mistakes, and study the things we don’t understand before we try to change them. I mean, we are the only creatures gifted with that kind of mind.

And there is, actually, a set of problem-solving methods that can be expected to do more good than harm, but only rarely do we see it actually used. Maybe that’s because the people who used these techniques succeeded in solving some problems, and that’s why we don’t hear about them on the public media. Problem gone. But of course you’re asking how this could be done, and I will tell you. It’s different for every problem, and it will only work if the people really want to solve the problem. So whatever it is the problem you want to solve, don’t claim that you have really tried until you follow this program:

1. Identify your very specific goal so you decide what actions are more likely to accomplish that goal.
2. Study the root causes of whatever problem you are trying to resolve, not only the sound-bite possibilities, or the propaganda possibilities, or whatever you want to make happen.
3. Learn the differences between facts and opinions.
4. Be very skeptical about the opinions and the “facts” of people who have money invested in the outcome.
5. Be very sure about the parts of the problem that you can not change. There are always parts you can’t change, even if you are a rich American who owns a technology company. Don’t try to change them.
6. Figure out what human behaviors are contributing to the problem. Because human behaviors are nearly the only thing you really can change.
7. Don’t lie to the people. They’ll probably figure it out.
8. Listen to the people who disagree with you. They may be your best source of good ideas.
9. Discuss the problem with everyone who is affected by it, including the children, unto the seventh generation.


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