Simple Answers To Complex Problems

We all love simple solutions, and they can be wrong. Why do some work and others not? It has to do with the nature of the problem. We often fail to notice the problem in its depth, and with that viewpoint, simple answers seem plausible.

The thing we must come to grips with is this. Complex problems don’t have simple answers.

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”¬† H. L. Mencken

How can you recognize a simple and wrong answer?

You cannot know by looking at the proposed solution. You must look at the problem. If it is complex, and most are, the simple answer is wrong. Always and everywhere. Simple problems have been solved long ago.

Take poverty as an example of a complex problem. If you see the problem as poor people have too little money, then the answer will be simple. Hand over some money. That it doesn’t make the problem go away will, no doubt, shock you, and so bigger infusions become necessary. That doesn’t work either and there seems to be more poor people than before. This solution meets Mencken’s standard. It cannot work because the problem is more complex than just the shortage of money. It is about finding the cause of the money shortage. Never treat symptoms when you can address a cause.

The cause of the cause

It is a little easier to think about if you think about the ways there are to have money. Invert the problem.

  1. Get an education and acquire a marketable skill.
  2. Understand what work ethic means
  3. Have an attitude that helps people deal with you
  4. Spend time trading your skill for money
  5. Be disciplined and spend the money you earn wisely
  6. Save some for future use.
  7. Be careful with debt
  8. Take on responsibilities only when you can afford them.
  9. Enhance your skill with more learning and experience.
  10. Learn the skills needed to be promoted
  11. Learn to build teams and networks
  12. Learn how to be a good partner in any relationship. Loyalty, persistence, optimism.
  13. Take responsibility for what happens and learn from it.

We all know those, but some people excuse their avoiding them by using magical thinking, or by blaming others or society for their inability to do the obvious. Poverty is the result of failig to follow simple and obvius rules.

Common factors that encourage poverty

Some are externally imposed

  1. Physical or mental deficiency. Not your fault, but it isn’t about fault, it is about potential and working to get the best of the situation
  2. War and civil insurrection. No matter how natively capable you are, if your world is in distress, you will have trouble making the most of your life.
  3. Weak government. Over-regulation and over-taxation limit you.
  4. Families, friends, and neighbourhoods. It is difficult to overcome your surroundings and their expectations, even demands.

Other factors are on you

The external ones are important and there should be support to deal with those. Other behaviours encourage having no money. The common ones:

  1. Weak work ethic. That shows up as the inability to finish education. As an employer, I looked at a university degree as merely the ability to finish something you needed to do. It shows discipline and persistence. What you learn might be useful, but discipline and persistence will carry you farther. If education is deficient, probably work ethic is too.
  2. Inability to control primitive emotions. If you are often angry, or dishonest, no one will want to be around you for long. Attitude matters.
  1. Overuse of drugs or alcohol. An internal locus of emotional control is productive. Using externalities to make you feel better doesn’t work for long.
  2. Having children before you are ready. While children produce many exciting moments, they are a financial liability. A big one.
  3. Refusal to take a job because it is “beneath you.” Arrogance is a self defeating condition.
  4. Seeking perfection before good enough. You aren’t going to stay where you start. Everything adds to your experience and your “Talent Stack.” Read Scott Adams on how to fail at everything and still be a big success.
  5. ¬†Willingness to be a dependent. Government money looks like a good thing, but it’s like riding a tiger. it’s easier to ride than get off.
  6. Impatience. Learn to wait and develop a solution rather than have a quick fix.

The overview

Simple solutions to complex problems get in the way and waste resources. Given that simple answers are costly and wrong, politicians must still present them. Low skill, low information, voters are not going to work at understanding complexity, so to them, the simple answer looks good enough. More complex offerings, and probably more right, don’t seem to do enough for the people. Expedient is not usually a good solution.

Politicians do not feed back tweak results because that hurts them. Until voters start noticing outcomes, reading past the headline, and examine the people rather their public face, the problem will remain.

Every complex problem should be addressed by seeking the cause of the cause and then moving ever deeper

Bonus observation.

How do you recognize an ideologue? They have a simple answer to any complex problem.

You knew that too, but each of us still falls for the simple answer.

I help people have more income and larger, more liquid estates.

Call or email or in Canada 705-927-4770


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