Problem Solving and Problem Creation
When I woke up this morning, I was thinking about a standard method of problem-solving that I have used many times in the course of my professional career.
It's based on studying the exact opposite of problem-solving. It's based on the study of problem creation.
I'll give you two examples.
The first example comes from a branch of mathematics called Chaos Theory. Chaos, as you know, is the opposite of Order. Since the dawn of civilization, human societies have valued Order and disvalued Chaos. To achieve Order, humankind invented Laws. And so we have the cultural concept of Law and Order.
But in the middle of the 20th Century, an MIT researcher working on weather and climate models took up the mathematical problem of creating Chaos. He discovered the roots of Chaos, through which he could create all manner of Chaos on purpose, as easily as possible. He discovered the easiest way to create Chaos is to adopt a rule (known as a Recursion Law) and apply it over and over. Almost all systems of rules are capable of creating Chaos, simply by following the rules without deviation.
So what did Edward Lorenz discover? He accidentally discovered that Law and Order is not only a myth, the adoption of Laws is the single most reliable way to cause Disorder.
The second example comes from a study of collections of seemingly unrelated problems. So, for example, Buddhism is about solving the problem of Suffering. According to Buddhist insight, Attachment is the root of Suffering. Now take the problem of Violence. Most of the violence in our culture takes the form of Vengeance (or Revenge). And so we have Wars and Systems of Justice, both of which answer one kind of violence (Unlawful Violence) with another kind of violence (Lawful Violence). Violence, of course, causes Suffering. As one zooms out, one observes a large collection of inter-related problems, where the common practices adopted to solve one of the problems either backfires and makes it worse, or else causes a fresh instance of one or more of the other problems in the collection.
I'll skip here to the bottom line and give you a list of ten such inter-related problems, where our practices to solve any one of them tends to exacerbate or even cause one or more of the others.
The Ten Big Unsolved Problems in our culture are: Conflict, Violence, Oppression, Injustice, Corruption, Poverty, Ignorance, Alienation, Suffering, and Terrorism.
Now there are plenty of discussion groups focused on Problem Solving. But suppose we study just the opposite. Suppose we study Problem Creation, to discover the easiest and most reliable way to create one or more of the specific problems in the collection of dreadful problems, so as to generate a chain reaction in which we get more and more of each of the specific kinds of problems in the above list.
Here is my sure-fire recipe for generating all manner of intractable problems.
Start with equal measures of Fear and Ignorance. Mix well, and act impulsively or impetuously out of Fear and Ignorance. Voila! You have just created a magnificent chain reaction of all the world's most troubling problems. What could be easier?
But wait. You say you don't want all those problems -- problems of Conflict, Violence, Oppression, Injustice, Corruption, Poverty, Ignorance, Alienation, Suffering, and Terrorism?
Easy. Don't act out of Fear and Ignorance. Instead, openly disclose your Fears. Openly disclose your Ignorance. And then have some faith that others will come forward to allay your fears and cure your ignorance.
But who among us has the Courage to disclose our Fears? Who among us has the Intelligence to disclose our Ignorance?