Thursday, July 20, 2006

The goal may not be where you are headed

"People should think things out fresh and not just accept conventional terms and the conventional way of doing things."
- R. Buckminster Fuller

But, Bucky, people accept the usual ways of doing things precisely because they don't give any thought to them. They assume that many others before them have thought everything through and discovered the best ways of doing everything.

And those "many others before them?" They thought (or, more accurately, didn't think seriously) the same way.

Most of us seem to have a natural tendency to believe that because we do something one way, that it must be the right way. And that if we were taught something one way, that it must be the best way.

In my personal life, I have been baffled many times over the past few years about how to proceed with a problem, usually a problem about how to repair something without having the tools and skills that a professional would have ready.

While I am fussing and ranting about how luck has dealt me another bad blow, concerned that I might have to invest in a new object to replace the one I couldn't repair, my wife comes along and suggests that I try something a little different.

You should understand that my wife is a very smart woman who disguises herself in the clothing of a court clown so that no one will know how knowledgeable she is. Her wisdom slips out most often when I am perplexed with a problem. Her solution is fast, cheap and easy to implement.

Sometimes I'm a dummy at night, unable to find the answer, but by morning I have figured out how to solve that complex problem that seemed intractable the previous evening.

It's true that taking a break from a disturbing problem and looking at it later often sheds new light on its possible solution. It's also true that the human brain hashes and rehashes over our daytime problems while we sleep, often resulting in the solutions presenting themselves fully formed when we wake up.

As a side note, this also explains why writers often wake in the middle of the night with a great idea and a need to commit it to print right away.

Looking at conventional problems in a different way doesn't mean just staring harder at them. It means looking away and thinking about something else for a while.

It means rethinking causes that might not have been considered before. Often times knowing a cause (or newly-considered causes) of something will give insight into its solution.

The key word in the Buckminster Fuller quote is "think." Just fussing and worrying about a problem is not thinking. Thinking about a problem is a process, like a journey that we travel many times until we finally discover the right way to reach our destination.

Sometimes that solution is quite different from the conventional way of getting there. If it is, those who take the conventional ways will object, mostly because they have not been through the same thinking process that caused us to reach the better solution.

Those who find the best solutions often work alone for a long time until others catch up with what they discovered.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to show you new, simple, cheap and easy ways to solve big problems you thought were unsolvable.
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