Problem Definition Precedes Solution

Why think about the problem before working on the solution?  Because it is efficient to do so.  Knowing specifically what the problem is, what it is not and especially what it means, assist solutions.

It is usually a mistake to try to solve a problem before you understand it.  Sometimes the problem is not really a problem and should be ignored, other times it is several problems in a single container. They must be dealt with differently than a single problem.  Clear understanding of the problem usually narrows the field of possible solutions.

A common mistake is to treat a problem that is merely a symptom of something else.  People like to treat symptoms because they are usually more apparent and there are often simple, easily obtained and wrong approaches.

Someone who is feeling a little down may decide a medication is the answer.  Someone else with the same condition may step up their gym schedule.  A third may seek a new job.  All of the solutions may work, but they involve a different understanding of the relationship between symptom and problem.  In the first case, the symptom is believed to be the problem.  In the second, the cause is assumed to be physical, while in the third it is situational.  Right solutions are not always absolute.

People get caught up with correlations. Correlation usually has little to do with causation, but it is an easy shortcut for people who do not know how to think or who do not want to do so.

Suppose I am down and decide to go to the gym to make more of the chemicals that will counteract that feeling.  Not going to the gym and feeling down are correlated but not getting enough exercise might or might not be the cause.  Suppose I was not going to the gym because my job required me to work 70 hours a week and that left too little time for the gym and my other duties.  Going to the gym at the cost of something else might help the feeling down problem for a while, but it will not address the cause.

Causation is a very difficult problem sometimes.  Most of the time we don’t want to know because it is hard and we must challenge some of our sacred beliefs.  Easier to address the symptoms.

What humans are best at doing is interpreting all new information so their prior conclusions remain intact.
Warren Buffett.

We seek things to support what we believe.  When we even notice things that contradict them, we assume the purveyor of those ideas are charlatans or the facts are wrong or misinterpreted or inapplicable in the case at hand.  Psychologists call it “confirmation bias” We notice things like those we already believe. 

Guessing or using intuition and then noticing only the information that supports the decision leads to new and harder to solve problems.  It is the mark of a disciplined mind that it can hold contradictory information long enough to decide if it presents a new or better understanding.  

Understanding what new information and your beliefs mean will help.

Don Shaughnessy arranges life insurance for people who understand the value of a life insured estate. He can be reached at The Protectors Group, a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency in Peterborough, Ontario.  In previous careers, he has been a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business.

Please be in touch if I can help you.  866-285-7772

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